Personal time discretion
Q: I finished grad school recently and just started a new corporate job that I’m excited about. However, I’m really nervous about needing to tell my supervisors and co-workers that I need to leave work for an hour each week to go to therapy. Although I see my therapist in the evening, this is a somewhat demanding, salaried position, and it’s not uncommon to have to work in a team to complete a project until late in the evening.
If I don’t disclose the true reason I need to step out, I’m worried that I might be asked to stay at work and miss my sessions. If I do disclose the reason I need to leave, I’m concerned that I might face stigma for going to therapy. My new company claims it is very progressive, but I’ve learned to be wary of large corporations over the years. Do you have any tips on how I should handle this situation? — Anonymous, New York
A: You don’t need to explain why you need one hour a week away from the office. Just tell your supervisor you need an hour of personal time each week and that you’ll return to the office after your personal time, as needed. And good for you for making time for therapy. I go twice a week. It is blocked off in my calendar so my staff knows I am unavailable. The appointments we must keep for ourselves are as important as any others.
Unfriendly friend of a friend
Q: I work for a humanitarian aid organization with headquarters in the United States and offices in many countries. I am middle-aged, white, lesbian, married and a mom. I share an office with N., an African woman who is 15 years younger than I am, married to a man with two kids. N. is also an evangelical Christian, and I’m agnostic. We’ve shared an office since we both started 13 years ago. We have a wonderful work relationship that sometimes extends to life outside of work.
R. is a mutual colleague and a friend of N.’s. For 10 years now, R. has refused to acknowledge me unless she absolutely must. Mostly, she will talk with my office mate when I’m not present. If I enter, she leaves as quickly as she can. R. is African American, married, a mom and very religious. She has spoken loudly to let anyone listening know that she believes in Jesus, that marriage is between a man and a woman, that homosexuality is a sin and that gay people shouldn’t parent. Our organization does HIV programming for LGBTQ people and works on safe abortion access and family planning. This woman is not espousing our organization’s values, but her position is 100% inward facing.
Last month, N. gave birth to her third child. It was a very rough delivery, and via text, she accepted my offer to bring her and her family dinner. The front door opened, and R. was standing there. She immediately asked, “WHAT are you doing here?”
What, if anything, can I say to R. at the office? To me, it seems clear that she dislikes me because I’m gay. I am tired of feeling unwelcome at work when she is around. I’m also tired of ignoring her homophobic behavior, but is ignoring all that I can do? Is this an HR issue? — Anonymous, Washington, D.C.
A: I am always curious when people go out of their way to identify race in their “Work Friend” letters. This letter and your dilemma would have been the same without the racial identifiers. What’s going on there? But on to your question. For whatever reason, R. does not care for you, but you cannot assume it’s because you’re a lesbian. The reality is that not everyone is going to get along. Sometimes people don’t like us. And yes, sometimes people are bigots. It’s frustrating when we aren’t sure about the source of someone’s enmity.
I have no doubt that this woman’s behavior is annoying, at best. I’m sorry you have to deal with such a hostile colleague. You should bring HR in if she is harassing you in the workplace, or if she is doing anything to impede your work or if she is allowing her possible homophobia to affect the community-facing work you’re doing.
But before you escalate anything, which I don’t necessarily recommend, try talking to her. You might say, “I’ve noticed some hostility from you and would like to talk it through so we can develop a more respectful working relationship.” Then the ball is in her court because you’ve named the behavior you’ve experienced and tried to deal with it proactively and productively. On a final note, she cannot make you feel unwelcome unless you allow her to. It is your workplace, too. Don’t let her behavior prevent you from feeling like you belong at your job. And don’t let her treat you badly without calling the behavior out.
My colleague’s problems are my problems, too
Q: A person who started working for my company only a month or so after I did, whom I assisted in acclimating to the office, has not worked a full week in the office since she started. Several months ago, it started seriously affecting how our staff functions. She seems to always have an issue — if it’s not illness in the family, it’s something to do with her house or car. She has been given permission to work from home on certain days because of child care needs and frequently works at home on other days of the week as conflicts come up.
I feel I can’t call in sick or take vacation because we’re already down a person before the day begins. I’ve had family emergencies where I’ve been asked by my manager if something else can be worked out because “X is already out of the office.” I don’t feel I’m being fairly compensated for the tasks I do now, let alone adding her workload to my own. Additionally, no other worker has been given the option to work remote or hybrid, and given the rising cost of literally everything, it feels very unfair.
How do I talk to my manager without seeming petty or like I’m not a team player? — M., Ohio
A: You can absolutely call in sick or take a vacation. Your employer will be fine, I assure you. Stop policing your colleague. Your colleague’s work arrangements are none of your business. It doesn’t matter how often she is out of the office, where she works or why her life is so hectic. If you want a hybrid work arrangement, ask for one. If her work habits are affecting yours, that’s the only thing you need to concern yourself with.
What is the problem? How would you like to see the problem resolved? Once you have answered those questions for yourself, meet with your manager and articulate those answers and ask for help in developing a plan for a more equitable distribution of responsibilities. There is no need to martyr yourself here, and I say that with the utmost affection.
Middle management blues
Q: As a department chair in a school, I am the ultimate middle manager. I have very little true authority and am mostly a colleague to my fellow teachers, but I am the one who “makes the final call” on some issues within our department. Sometimes, something comes up that requires that tactful balance of asking and telling. What’s the best and most ethical way to navigate this? Is it better to ask, even when it’s not really an ask? I have generally preferred this method, but I also feel that it’s disingenuous to “ask” if people can’t really say no.
As an example, we recently had new staff members join and needed teachers to share their rooms and space with them. I emailed our current staff members asking them if they’d be willing to share space and even included a reminder that this was really necessary for the functioning of our school and department. A few respondents said no.
I suppose because I made it a question, they had the right to say no. But I am also resentful of their responses. Then again, I think that if I didn’t want honest answers, I should have just told them, “You might be getting a roommate.” But that doesn’t feel great either, and I don’t like being that kind of boss. Is it too much to expect people to take the hint? — Anonymous
A: Asks are asks, and demands are demands. I understand the mindset of asking people to do things they are really required to do. But when you make something seem optional, most people will treat it as optional, especially if you are asking them to do something they don’t really want to do.
Your resentment is understandable. You were trying to be nice and create a collaborative environment. Alas, that backfired. You cannot expect people to be mind readers or to intuit your intentions. In the future, say what needs to be said. You can be a leader without being oppressive about it.
In this situation, you might have informed your colleagues that the staff is growing but the building unfortunately isn’t, so some people will have to share space. In addition, you could explain how that determination will be made so people are at least well-informed, even if they don’t really have a say in the matter.