The New York Times workplace columnist Megan Greenwell answers readers’ workplace questions.
Q: For more than 20 years, I had the job I always dreamt about. I knew since junior high school that I wanted to work in what was then called the record business.
After graduating, I landed a job at a PR firm and over the years climbed to a senior vice-president position, earning well over six figures plus a nice, steady bonus.
After the president of the company was unceremoniously booted from the firm he had founded, a new guy came in and within a short period fired people he felt had loyalty to the old regime. After more than 20 years I was out. For the next 15 or so years I stayed involved in music, but could never land a position like I had previously.
Last year I got separated and moved across the country. Although I had money coming in from my pension and early social security payments, I was depressed because I couldn’t fit back into what the business had morphed into.
Finally, after encouragement from my kids, I decided to apply for a job at a retail chain I respected. Although the pay scale was at the opposite side of what I was making, I thought it would be good for me to be doing something and I thought I could be an asset.
Six months later, I got promoted and received a small bonus for being an associate.
When I walked out of the store after being told the news, I was so happy I wanted to post about it, but I am a bit hesitant that people who knew me in my previous life, working with big-name music artists, will think less of me now.
Even people I work with now don’t know about my history. I’m comfortable with my transition, I just don’t know how others will react. How would you suggest I come to terms with this?
A: There’s no way to make anything feel less fraught without talking openly about it, so if you announce on Facebook that you’re loving your retail job and you’re proud to have been promoted, it will stick in someone’s mind the next time they’re in a similar situation.
Some fake friends and old professional rivals will probably make a joke or two behind your back, but I’d wager that more people will be genuinely happy that you’re doing so well and relieved that you’re showing them a version of life they’ve been irrationally afraid of.
Q: My colleague and I have an informal snack corner in our shared cubicle. We enjoy it when people stop by to eat some salty and sweet items we provide. But there are some co-workers who either don’t contribute or bring a single box of biscuits per month and act as if they deserve a medal. It isn’t the money, but the principle. How should we handle this?
A: This is a nice thing to do. I wonder if people just think you’re even nicer? You don’t owe them an unlimited supply of treats, of course, but have you ever been specific about the terms?
I will confess to occasionally dropping in on a co-worker pal who always has a good stash of sweets and I have never brought her some in return. You have shown me the error of my ways; now you have to do the same for your colleagues.
Put up a sign that says “contributions appreciated”. Watch the treats flow in.
Q: I have been at my job for about two months. I have learnt quickly that there is little work for me to do. While I am at the office eight hours a day, I perform maybe one or two hours’ worth of work because that is all there is available.
I have informed my boss that my projects are done, yet it appears nothing more is coming my way. I feel guilty sitting in my chair reading the news all day when I’d rather be doing my job. What should I do during my downtime? Should I discuss this more with my boss?
A: Having too much work to do can be awful for one’s stress levels and overall sanity, but it is far preferable to having no work to do.
Being paid to do nothing sounds great, but doing nothing generally means watching TV in your pyjamas, not sitting upright at a desk in the office. Your situation is more analogous to the “rubber room” where New York City teachers accused of misbehaviour have to sit all day while they’re being investigated, or my idea of hell.
I asked a friend in the same situation how to survive. “Keep quietly and persistently suggesting to your boss that you have no more work on your plate and would happily take on anything else at any time, but mostly to build a paper trail in case someone asks why you aren’t doing anything,” she said.
It’s a good idea, to which I would add only: use your free hours to look for another job.
Megan Greenwell is the editor in chief of Deadspin and a workplace columnist at The New York Times.