Fix It Or Forget It?March 23rd, 2011
Deirdra* worked for a small nonprofit she was passionate about, but was starting to think that getting sick during every peak season was too high a price to pay. “I don’t think I can give my heart, soul AND immune system to the cause, too,” she said.
“I’m a hard worker,” Deirdra explained, “But I don’t feel as though enough is ever enough at my small nonprofit. I work so many hours during every busy season that I’m out afterward with sick days. I don’t really feel that vacation days exist, either, since I work nearly double time beforehand (and often after) to compensate for any days off that I do take. All that ends up happening is that vacation days are subtracted from my balance. It’s not truly time off, though.”
“I specifically went to work for this nonprofit because of how much I believe in this mission, but I just feel as though my whole self is slipping away, to the point that none of me is left.”
Deirdra decided to Forget It! and she and I discussed what her options would be at a mid-sized or larger nonprofit organization. I pointed out that she might consider volunteering time for the cause that she is so passionate about, once she got settled into her new job and had some time to do so.
While we initially began her job search looking at both large and mid-sized nonprofits, Deirdra was frustrated at the lengthy process that most large organizations have. Coming from such a small environment, she found the system simply to apply for employment to be bureaucratic and cumbersome; therefore, we narrowed our scope to the mid-sized organizations, since she would most likely find a better match in those environments.
Although the process still took longer than Deirdra would have liked, when she finally did get an offer at a mid-sized organization, she was pleased with the results. Having additional support and less of a panic mode yielded a successful campaign that allowed her to pull through without sick days afterward, which, for Deirdra, was a remarkable victory.
She hasn’t had time yet to volunteer for her favorite cause, and hopes to do so in the future, once she learns her new job better, but, “For now, I’ll take this,” she says.
When Edith* began her new job, she made a point to meet everyone and try to learn from people in all departments. Her position would work with nearly every section, so she wanted to get in touch with as many staff members as possible when she came on board.
She found herself spending more and more time with one staff member in particular, who shared a lot of organizational history with her, and seemed to know a great deal about everyone. At first, he seemed like a good resource, and an excellent use of her time, getting to know him. Later, she realized that each conversation seemed to begin as something informative, but not only did it go on way too long, it always ended up as a litany of complaints about what was wrong with the office, its staff, policies, his life, the world, etc., ad nauseum.
Then, it seemed that this chronic complainer in the office made a point to visit her nearly every day and perform a daily debriefing. Although Edith initially appreciated his insight into the world behind the scenes, she now feared that everyone would automatically associate her with his negativity, since they were so often seen together – and she wasn’t quite sure how to detach herself. (She couldn’t afford to offend him, since she needed information from him on a regular basis, and it was also well known that people who were out of favor with him waited much longer.)
Edith was puzzled as to how to save her job and her reputation as well, and was wondering if her only option was to start looking for another position elsewhere. She contacted me and said, “It seems like a lose-lose situation.”
I suggested that since Edith was still relatively new, she had the option of feigning ignorance on several occasions, as well as continuing to alter her schedule, surroundings and assignments, under the guise of “still learning,” which worked to her advantage, as we strategically altered her approach to the situation, while taking care not to alienate someone upon whom she depended to complete her assignments in a timely fashion.
Edith rearranged her work area so that her computer and phone faced a different direction than the visitor chair in her workspace, and she scheduled calls to arrive from a couple of friends during the times the complainer was most likely to visit.
With the caller ID no longer visible to the visitor chair, she was able to use these additional calls as “work-related interruptions,” which took her away from the ongoing whining, to use at her discretion. If she wanted to get back to an important topic, she could end the personal call. If the complainer was simply droning on, she was free to treat the call as an important assignment and pull up documents on the computer – while turning slightly away.
Since all of these avoidance tactics were implemented gradually over time, and always politely, under the guise of “I’d love to continue talking, but . . . I’ve got this assignment . . .” Edith was able to Fix It!
She successfully distanced herself from being thought of as “the complainer’s sidekick,” while at the same time, she didn’t notice any penalties that were assessed because she no longer had the time for his daily decompression sessions.
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown