Q: I am a director of a clinical lab at a large hospital. The lab supervisor, who makes much less than I do, has taken to buying expensive refreshments for the staff at monthly lab meetings. The department does not reimburse him. I feel terrible that he is spending his own money like this. Is it my responsibility to pay for these? Do I demand that department slush funds be used, which is unlikely, since this is one of many labs? What is my obligation here? Should I start a rotating schedule or just butt out? — Anonymous, Boston
A: Given that the lab supervisor has done this of his own volition, I don’t know that there is anything you need to do. I also think it is great when organizations provide reimbursement for this sort of thing — which they should always, always do. Surely there is some money somewhere to pay for refreshments once a month.
I like the idea of a rotating schedule, but that forces people who may not want to provide refreshments to do so. Figure out how much money you can find for this, meet with the lab supervisor and let him know what his monthly budget is, thank him for his kindness, and encourage him to stop using his own funds because this modest expense is one the lab can cover.
No upside to an all-hands 8 a.m. meeting
Q: The head of sales promotion at my firm is a self-proclaimed early bird. He proudly declares he is up with the birds at 5:30 a.m., and because he lives near our office, he is behind his desk, churning out emails at 7 a.m. Even while we were shut down, he came into the office, holding Zoom calls from the empty conference room. While he says there’s no pressure to respond to those early missives, we all feel compelled to do so. He also holds weekly 8 a.m. Monday all-staff meetings, which had been remote but are now in person, with required attendance.
There is no formally stated core hours policy, but I’ve noticed some of my colleagues dragging themselves into the office by 7:30. Before COVID we were a normal, 9 to 5 office, and it being New York, most of us worked until almost 6.
While I understand that many employees called back to offices are scrambling to readjust to commuting and in-person work, many of our staff are actively looking for remote jobs. The early bird departs at 3 or 3:30, leaving the staff to stay until 6 to complete the tasks left by him along with our everyday tasks. I have a small team of four and they’ve been open about being unhappy with what they rightfully view as extended hours. I don’t want to lose them. Should I speak to the boss and risk losing his regard or accept that I will lose my staff? — S.K., New York
A: I am not an early riser. In fact, I am more inclined to go to sleep at 5:30 a.m. than to wake up at such a nightmarish hour. You are not medical doctors or sanitation workers or morning show hosts. It is absolutely unreasonable for your boss to expect work before 8 a.m. and, dare I say, 9 a.m. Though he may not be setting that expectation explicitly, he does set it implicitly with all his 7 a.m. email peacocking. His personal preferences for early hours should not be company policy.
I know I will get dozens of emails extolling the virtues of early morning meetings, but truly, save it. I will never, ever think an 8 a.m. meeting is necessary unless we’re talking about the medical profession. I don’t think you will lose your boss’s regard if you tell him that the excessively early hours are affecting morale. There is no reason for anyone to come to the office at 7:30 a.m., and he needs to make that clear.
Q: I was incredibly burned out coming into my current position, and COVID only made it worse. Every piece of news consumed over the last two years has slowly deflated me. I have little energy left. When I should have been cheering up — ample vaccines for everyone, possible return to normal — I started to lose faith even more. I have never wanted to quit more, and not even for another job, but to take a good long breather and reevaluate my career. I have a good safety net: emergency savings of $40,000, nest egg and retirement of about a quarter million, and parents I can move back in with. I’m just so scared of walking away from the grind. What happens when I do decide to go back, and no one will take me? What if I went back to school to pursue a completely different passion and can’t find my footing?
I am also thinking of moving out of the country to one of the ones I grew up in, where the cost of living would be much less. I have no loans, no debt, no obligations, no dependents — and yet so, so much fear. This plague is reminding me that life is short. But I also can’t help think of all the sacrifices I made to get to my current position: the scholarships, salary negotiations, the ups and downs of having to learn to advocate for myself in this country, the United States, where I have lived for over 15 years. I came here as a refugee, yet feel that people care very little for my well-being even in the industry that purports to care about refugee issues the most. I am tired of being undervalued, never being truly listened to, or used for clout or “street cred” by the places that employ me. — Anonymous, Seattle
A: Oh, my dear, you are burned out and depressed. I strongly encourage you to get into therapy, immediately, twice a week if you can afford it. Making career moves of any kind right now will only provide a temporary reprieve until you deal with the underlying emotional issues. I can’t tell you what to do, but you have the resources, so by all means, yes, take some time off. Replenish yourself. Try to figure out what you want to do with your professional life. Reach out to your friends and share how you’re feeling. Surround yourself with people who care for your well-being.
Think through your options, whether it’s graduate school, a new job, moving to another country, or some combination thereof and start mapping out a plan for how you can get from where you are now to a better place.
But first, deal with the depression. You will be in a far better position to make sound decisions when you address the fear, anger and alienation you are understandably experiencing. The grind is not your friend, so do not worry about leaving it behind. The past two years have been incredibly challenging. Be gentle with yourself, and good luck. I am confident you will find your footing and a renewed sense of purpose no matter what you choose.
Cutting the cord
Q: Last summer, my department at a small ad agency underwent restructuring, and I was laid off. I had worked at this company for six years and was given three weeks of severance pay. During that severance period, I twice received text messages from my former manager with work-related questions on projects I had been managing. I hesitated to respond but decided to do so to preserve the relationship and a potential reference in the future. I got the feeling my former manager felt this was appropriate because I was still being paid by the company. Did I have any responsibility to respond to their questions? — Anonymous, New York
A: You don’t owe an employer anything when they lay you off. If the situation were reversed and you needed help from a company after the relationship ended, the company would likely not provide it. Your three weeks of severance pay wasn’t so you would be available to the company for three more weeks. It was inappropriate for your former manager to contact you. You were not under any obligation to respond to questions and could have ignored the texts and kept it moving, in good conscience.
That said, I understand your inclination to avoid burning bridges. Our professional worlds tend to be rather small, and because you wanted a recommendation from your former manager, it was prudent to answer a few transition queries, within reason. It shouldn’t be this way, though — being expected to tolerate exploitation in a professional relationship where a former employer holds power over future employment.