Q: I work for a small, progressive nonprofit as the only full-time communications person. My boss wants to be more of a “thought leader” on issues of racial justice, but his only “leadership” is to demand I write blog posts and op-eds about his commitment to equity and justice — and put his byline on them.
I’ve tried to make this a collaborative process. But no. He seems to think you can order up beautifully written takes on police brutality, felons’ voting rights, COVID-19 inequities, etc., in the same way you order a plate of pancakes.
Is this normal for a CEO-communications staff relationship? I want to work with someone committed to the work of racial justice, but I feel like we are just paying lip service. Is it OK to continue to ghostwrite for this man if it serves a greater purpose? — Anonymous
A: You’re asking the wrong question. It is certainly OK for you to do your job, and it is wonderful that the writing you’re doing serves a greater purpose. It is always important to bring attention to the most critical issues of our day.
It is not unusual for executives to have staff ghostwrite for them. As a communications person, you are generally communicating as the organization or its leadership, not as an individual with a byline. Your boss doesn’t participate in the creative process because he doesn’t have to. He has you for that. And in an ideal world, he wouldn’t take credit for your work, but he does it because he can; it is fairly standard practice.
Your real frustration is seeing someone else get credit for your valuable work. I understand the feeling. It is natural to want ownership of your intellectual property. Because ghostwriting is the nature of the job, I don’t know that you have a lot of options. You can certainly raise this issue with your boss and see if he is open to you writing some pieces under your own byline. If you really want to get work into the world under your own name, you’re better off submitting to publications separate from your day job. (Just be sure to clear it with your employer first.)
Most organizations are paying lip service when they acknowledge social justice issues, but here, at least some attention is being paid. The alternative is silence, and silence is unacceptable.
Q: I share a manager position with a conscientious and hardworking co-worker who has much better tech skills than me. Since we started this arrangement, he’s invented useful shortcuts that have allowed him to take on what seems like the lion’s share of our work. He gets it done more quickly and accurately than me and says he enjoys it. Our supervisor doesn’t care how the work is divided as long as it gets done.
I’m able to do the minimum tech tasks required for my job — slowly and laboriously. I pick up whatever tasks he doesn’t do, and I know this is a good problem to have, but I feel inadequate and guilty and am wondering how to best grow my work skills. — Andrea, Michigan
A: This is, indeed, a good problem to have. You and your co-worker have found a balance that suits your strengths. He is happy, and I suspect you’re relieved. You aren’t inadequate. You have nothing to feel guilty about, as you aren’t doing anything wrong. If you weren’t doing your fair share, that would be a problem, but this isn’t that.
It does seem like you want to improve your technical skills, so you should make a plan for doing that work. Do you need to take a class or workshop? Do you need to practice these skills and study the latest books? Do you need to ask a co-worker to mentor you? You have a lot of options here. Figure out how to grow your skills, and at the same time, recognize that you are of use and that being of use takes many different forms.
None of your beeswax
Q: I work on a small marketing team for a hospital, and it’s just my boss and me. We discuss our lives in a casual manner. Recently, I realized my longtime marriage had to end. I stopped wearing my wedding band and engagement ring. My boss noticed I’m not wearing it anymore, and I’ve caught her staring at my finger.
The finger-staring is annoying, but now my boss has taken this to another level. We keep notes and assignments in a file and place our initials next to the person responsible for a task. She has begun changing my initials — as in, a different initial from the one for my married last name. At first, I thought it was an honest typo, but she keeps using these new initials.
When I first started at this job, I gained a little weight, and she handed me a flyer advertising our hospital’s maternity services. I was not pregnant. I didn’t say anything then, so this is why I think this initial thing is a ploy to get me to say something. If I don’t, she’s going to keep doing this nonsense.
Because she’s my boss, do I have to muster up something more polite than “I don’t want to talk about it”? Do I actually owe this update because we’re such a small unit? What if she asks me straight out? I’m also open to the idea that I’m just supersensitive about this right now. — Anonymous
A: You may be sensitive about your marital status right now, but your boss is passive-aggressive. It sounds like the rest of your working relationship is fine, but you have every right to establish boundaries. The initial thing is simply bizarre. I am not at all sure what her goal is beyond tormenting you in the pettiest, strangest of ways.
Certainly, it’s always good to have a collegial relationship with your boss, but you don’t owe her or any co-worker information about your personal life that you aren’t inclined to share. Given that you are such a small team, though, and given that you want her behavior to end, I would simply tell her that you and your husband are separating, you’re not ready to talk about it, and you’re grateful, in advance, that she will respect your boundaries during this difficult time.