Q: I recently started a corporate job and am wondering how to handle my observance of the Jewish holidays this fall and in the future. This year, I’m using vacation and personal days and taking some unpaid hours. If I am responsible for work each week that can’t be done in advance and if I have a much-shortened week because of an important holiday, can I reasonably ask for some accommodation? Or is it all on me to figure out how to complete the work in less time? Can I ask to work on a federal holiday, like Labor Day, so I won’t be so behind? I’m in a hard spot because my religion is important to me, but I don’t see how in the culture of my current workplace, or perhaps because of the expectations set by my manager, I can do my work and observe the holidays. Do I forgo my religion so I am not out of a job or is my workplace required to meet me halfway?
A: Unfortunately, there is no federal law mandating time off for religious holidays. That said, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does say you can’t be treated differently because of your religious background. To that end, your employer does have to provide you “reasonable accommodation,” so long as it doesn’t impair the employer. You can and should ask for accommodations for your religious observance. Approach your manager with a specific plan for the fulfillment of your responsibilities when your faith requires you to take time off. How do you think you can both honor your faith and fulfill your professional responsibilities? Is there a colleague with whom you can share your workload during the holidays? Can you work longer hours on the days around the time you take off for religious observance? When sharing your plan, make it clear you’re open to feedback and also make sure, looking ahead to next year, that you give plenty of notice for future holiday work plans. I hope your manger is receptive to this conversation. You should not have to choose between your faith and making a living.
Struggling to step back
Q: Last year, my husband and I moved to our long-planned retirement city. We both left behind very fulfilling careers. My husband is now fully retired while I continue to work. At 62, I knew I didn’t want to be the boss any longer and I was grateful to find employment doing similar work I’d previously done but with far less responsibility. I’m surprised by how hard it is to make this adjustment. Since I’m in a new community, I don’t have the same credibility and network I had in my past 20-year career. I keep reminding myself that this is what I wanted, but I still feel diminished at times. Can you suggest resources that can help me get on with this next phase of my life?
A: Adjusting to a change in professional standing can be overwhelming. After a career of leading, you are figuring out how to follow, while holding your head high. And you should. Please, be more generous with yourself. This is a major life change. It will take time to adjust and get to know who you are becoming. Perhaps reframe how you’re thinking. You are not at all diminished. You were so accomplished and secure that you could take a step back. You’re now prioritizing other aspects of your life which, at 62, makes perfect sense. After a lifetime of working hard and pursuing a successful career, you can spend more time figuring out who you are beyond your professional identity. You have the benefits of a job — income, health insurance, a way to occupy your time — without the intensity and pressure of being the boss. I hope, in time, you can recognize this opportunity as a blessing and embrace the possibilities of your future.
No more Mr. Fix I.T.
Q: I work at an architecture firm of about 60 employees. We have fully transitioned to producing construction and design-related documents digitally. Our work depends on this digital production, which requires the near constant maintenance of software, hardware, program licensing and servers. But the firm does not have a staff member dedicated to information technology — all of this is currently “managed” by one of the partners and the CFO, neither of whom have the time (or sometimes experience) to troubleshoot and juggle miscellaneous requests from employees. Only management positions have access to administrative credentials, required for new program installation or updates. This leads to a never-ending cycle of working on outdated programs, with an outdated computer system, on a server that never seems to keep up. While I have worked my way up to a midlevel position, I am still one of the younger members of the staff and unsure of how to have this conversation with my manager. How do I get my firm to see that making IT a priority is critical?
A: I suspect the decision-makers at your firm already know that making IT a priority is critical, but the confidence of a man in charge knows no bounds. (I am making an assumption about who is making this call.) I’m sure the partner and CFO are great at what they do in their own disciplines, but just because one uses a computer does not mean one can maintain the complex technological infrastructure your industry demands. Sometimes, the easiest path is straight forward. Make a list of the ways lacking an IT professional hinders productivity. But first, open the conversation by commending these managers for the remarkable job they’ve done getting the company to this point. It’s a credit to their efforts that they’ve kept the technical ship afloat this long but now, the firm is at an inflection point. It’s time for them to relinquish their IT responsibilities to professionals who can usher the firm forward into a technological promised land. It is in everyone’s best interests, including theirs, to recognize that just because they (sort of) can, does not mean they should.
Employer wants its money back
Q: I work at a private school often funded more by its endowment than tuition dollars. The development office staff solicits donations to this endowment every year, arguing that it is important to secure the school’s future and allow it to continue in its mission of educating children. I am fine with them raising this money, but they ask all the faculty and staff to donate, sending frequent emails about it. They believe it is important that 100% of faculty donate to the fund, as it shows other donors how committed the people who work here are to the school’s mission. I believe, however, that it is inappropriate to ask us to donate money out of our paychecks from the school back to the school itself. Development says that the donation is “optional,” but last year I received many, many emails until I relented and donated a small amount. It feels like it is blurring the boundary between worker and employer to ask us to donate back our hard-earned money to the school in the name of our “mission.” Am I wrong?
A: No, you are not wrong. This nonsense has happened at every university where I’ve taught, and I absolutely refuse. It is craven, manipulative and greedy for institutions to ask employees to donate their hard-earned money to the institution that pays them. They are basically asking for their money back, which is outrageous. Ignore their fundraising entreaties. It’s highly crafted language designed to part you from your money. You know what institution also has a mission of educating children? Public schools! Private education is a choice, and it is an immense privilege. (My background includes a mix of both public and private education.) You and your fellow employees demonstrate commitment to the mission of educating children by showing up to work every day. That is more than enough.