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Fix It Or Forget It?

December 12th, 2012

After the honeymoon period is over, your job might not be what you thought. What clues do you look for while interviewing so that you’re not surprised down the road? See what Natalie* and Olympia* learned at their new jobs.

Natalie* was pleased when she discovered that her new job was literally across the street from where she was now living!  “What could be better than that?!” she thought.  No more commute, no being late for work, no gas bills or parking, etc.  It seemed like a dream come true!

“I should have known better,” she told me, six months into her job.  “I’m old enough to realize that anything that seems too good to be true must have a catch to it.”

Although Natalie actually liked the work she was doing, there was too much of it – and she didn’t appreciate the fact that she was always the person chosen to do it.

“If my boss ever needs someone to work late, he always picks me.  Same thing for coming in early – or weekend work.  Because I’m across the street, I have become the de facto pick-up-everyone’s-slack worker!  I’m sick of it!”

“Also, I’ve noticed that I get more criticism for being late,” Natalie added.  “Now, I realize that I don’t have to drive through traffic as others do, but I’m rarely late – and there are other reasons that people are late.  Besides, I’m always working additional hours, so you’d think he’d be gracious about it, but no . . . “

Natalie and I discussed what to do about her manager’s situational ethics, since he appeared to be understanding about all the other employees’ family situations, commutes, etc. – but not hers.  She was interested in a workaround, if we could find one that didn’t lead to her being double teamed.

Something recent Natalie mentioned that had helped her situation had to do with her mother, who had had surgery.  When Natalie needed some time off to take her mother to the hospital – and subsequently stay with her over the weekend – she noticed that nobody at the office contacted her for any evening or weekend work.  (Her mother doesn’t live near the office.)

I suggested a several-pronged plan of attack, to give her manager and co-workers the impression that she wasn’t home, even if she was:

•     Publicize to people at work an exaggerated need for her mother’s convalescent care, which will require more regular and extended visits from Natalie to her mother’s home
•    Change interior decorating, such as curtains, etc. to her apartment, so that it isn’t apparent when she is or isn’t home from viewing across the street
•    While at home, park her car not within view of the office, so co-workers aren’t aware if she’s home or not
•    Don’t call the office from home, or otherwise publicize your whereabouts during days off.

Once Natalie followed these guidelines, her manager – and other staff members – read the cues she laid out for them, and responded in kind.  She was able to Fix It! and remain in her job.  She was pleased that this method allowed her to keep her private life private . . . and public life . . . well, public.

Olympia* was having difficulty getting a position in marketing when she had moved to this new area, since she didn’t have many contacts, so she was pleased when she finally landed her position with this company, but after a while she felt singled out – and not only because she was “the newest employee.”

What she noticed very soon was that she was the only woman in the marketing department, and whenever there was a boring or meaningless task of cleaning up this or that to do (whether figuratively or literally), her director would end up finding a reason for her to do it.

In the beginning, she simply complied, but this was beginning to get ridiculous.  She finally challenged him and said, “Actually, I’m really busy with (project).  Couldn’t ______ handle it?”

This is when she saw not only her director’s horrified reaction, but her “co-workers’” as well.  It became obvious that they never saw her as a co-worker, and that it wasn’t a coincidence that her predecessor was the only other woman in the department.

“I certainly didn’t have to guess about how my pay stood up next to the other guys’ in the department, once I found out that I was a glorified secretary!”  Olympia exclaimed.  It took us several months to find her something else after that, but this was the turning point when she decided to Forget It!

Olympia made a concerted effort in subsequent interviews to be acutely aware of not only how many women were on staff in each organization, but what their positions were . . . and how they were treated, spoken to, and so forth, during her time there.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.
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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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