Q: I’m in a teachers union at a university in California, and we have been negotiating with the administration for two years to gain job security for lecturers. Currently, there’s an offer on the table I’d really benefit from. And most of us in the union would really benefit from this current contract proposal. However, it doesn’t provide job security for early-career lecturers, so that means the administration can fire people before they benefit from the job security that comes with longer employment. We are preparing to go on strike, and honestly, I’m very nervous. I don’t really want to strike in the middle of a budget crisis because I’m worried about my job security. At the same time, I don’t want to abandon more vulnerable faculty. Is it worth risking my own job to strike? — Anonymous, California
A: Yes, it is worth going on strike. I understand your concerns about the risk you’re taking, and those feelings are entirely valid. But the point of a union is collective bargaining for the benefit of all, not just bargaining for some. If you don’t fight to protect early-career lecturers, what are you even doing? It is imperative for every member of your union to do everything to support the most vulnerable lecturers in your institution. Would you want to be abandoned if you were in their position?
Making a Midwest move
Q: My partner and I are considering a move to Ohio because of the lower cost of living and the opportunity to have a good work-life balance for our midlife while building for our retirement. I love West Coast living, but the high cost makes it difficult. Eventually, we’d like to find local jobs in our professions, but as two butch lesbians, we have concerns about fitting into the office culture in a more conservative area. What would you want two midlife lesbians to know about thriving in the beautiful Midwest? — Anonymous
A: If you so choose, I wish you and your partner the best in your move. I am from Nebraska and live on the West Coast, so I’m fairly well versed in both places. My best advice is to just be yourselves. It is not your responsibility to contort yourself to fit into a more conservative environment. There are plenty of liberal, open-minded people in the Midwest — just as there are moderate and conservative folks, too. People tend to be nice, albeit somewhat passive-aggressive. They pride themselves on this niceness, especially in professional settings. Now, this is a generalization, but on the whole, whether the niceness is genuine or not, people won’t be openly bigoted. They may not socialize with you outside of work, but in the office, they will be cordial. As you settle in to your new workplace, do what you can to get to know your co-workers. Maybe bring some homemade baked goods. Everyone loves baked goods. Be curious about the people you work with and try to get to know them. Be open to letting them get to know you. Ask for recommendations for things to do in your new city; people love giving advice. It can be hard to acclimate to a new environment, but go into the situation knowing that you are not a problem. You don’t need to explain yourself or to apologize for who you are. Truly, just be yourself. And have a little faith that you will be embraced rather than rejected for all the wonderful things you are.
Last man standing
Q: I work at a strategy agency that has experienced a significant amount of attrition over the past year. I’ve been here three years and am mostly content. The work continues to be challenging and interesting, I feel fairly compensated and valued, and I feel that an overdue promotion may be happening shortly. Recently, two colleagues at the same level left to join other agencies, and that has gotten me thinking. Is there something wrong here that I cannot see, or have I just gotten complacent? Any advice on how to navigate the situation would be greatly appreciated. — Jon, New York
A: You haven’t really given me enough information to determine what’s going on at your agency, but I imagine your colleagues are leaving because there’s little room for advancement. In addition to the recent departures of your peers, your promotion is overdue. For many ambitious people, a stagnant professional trajectory is more than enough reason to look for another position. It may well behoove you to see what other opportunities are out there if advancement is important to you. You can also ask your supervisor if there is a timetable for the promotion you’re expecting. The response might help you get clarity on how to proceed.
Hello? Didn’t they miss me?
Q: I have recently returned to my job (remotely) after a few months part time and two months on full leave to care for my husband while he underwent chemotherapy. I do not feel ready to return, but I am no longer eligible for caregiver leave and am trying to do my best. I did not expect a barrage of welcome-back messages on my first day, but have been hurt by the majority of my colleagues’ complete lack of acknowledgment of the difficulties we have just been through, even after I am sending emails to them for the first time in months. Members of my department did send very sweet messages on my first day, but other than that, I have only heard from one person. — Anonymous, New York
I know my focus on this is probably just another way for me to get out my anger, but I also know that if situations were reversed, I would, at the very least, say, “Welcome back,” on receiving a first correspondence from someone who had been out in these circumstances. I am not talking about people I rarely interact with; these are colleagues I work with frequently and who were well aware of the reason for my absence. Am I crazy for being hurt? How can I move past this and not think differently of them?
A: You are not crazy for having feelings. You’ve just been through an intense medical crisis and have returned to work because you have no other choice. That’s an incredible burden to bear. I hope, between work and continuing to care for your husband, that you can also take some time for yourself and allow yourself to be cared for by your nearest and dearest. As for your colleagues — people tend to get caught up in their own lives. While you were dealing with your crisis, they were likely dealing with crises of their own, and the coronavirus pandemic, and who knows what else. And as you note, the people in your department did acknowledge your absence. I’m not sure you can expect more than that. Your more distant colleagues may not have noticed your absence, however painful that may be. Certainly, your hurt is understandable. Allow yourself to feel it. Perhaps the best way to move past this is to extend your colleagues a generosity they have yet to extend to you. Give them the benefit of the doubt. If you really want closure, ask them why they haven’t said anything about your return. But also ask yourself why this means so much to you. What would their acknowledgment provide? And is there another way to satisfy that need? Regardless, I hope that the road ahead is kinder to you than the one you’ve already traveled. And may your husband’s recovery continue.