New York Times workplace expert Choire Sicha responds to workplace questions.
Question: I recently landed my first real job after graduating. While it is a job that I find myself succeeding at when assigned to tasks, more often than not I am not given any tasks.
My team consists of myself and two male colleagues, one being my boss. They are always busy. I have asked if there is anything I can do or learn, time and time again, only to be told: “No, you’re good.”
Worst of all, I am often alone in the office, so when the phone rings or someone comes in or emails us, I can’t do anything, because I haven’t been trained to do anything.
I feel that I’m wasting my talent and their time by being here. How do I diplomatically approach my boss with this?
Answer: I’m going to ignore the part where many of us just saw the phrases “I am not given any tasks” and “I can’t do anything.
Shouldn’t you be spending those free and lovely empty hours working on your graphic novel. The world is giving you a gift. You’re sitting in an office alone with nothing to do.
Look at this job as a teaching moment and teach yourself something. You have encountered a classic nonsensical entry-level job. Why is someone paying you to sit there for 55 hours a week?
Likely, it is because “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Sure, it is totally reasonable to spend five minutes with your boss each week to ask: “What more can I take on here?” Note that none of that sentence was about how you feel or about fairness or your career path. Skip the preamble.
It is possible that you will never get trained to do anything and your boss wonders why you haven’t picked up the skills by yourself or by osmosis. But none of this matters.
You have entered the workforce at the uneasy top of a scary boom cycle. Write your pretty poems on the clock. You’ll look back on this job and laugh.
Question: I have several chronic but stable medical conditions that sometimes cause me to miss work slightly more than average, though I try to attend as much as possible. Do I disclose and seek accommodations or just keep pretending I have a particularly dodgy stomach or bad colds?
Answer: So, in the Proper World, which is a pocket universe that exists only in some sophomore philosophy seminar, you would have a cosy and empathetic meeting with your supervisor and an HR representative.
Together you could read the guidelines about reasonable accommodations. Maybe you’d laugh and cry a little together as you discussed how you have so many rights under the law. Then you’d figure out how to best do your job in a way that improves your health, instead of hindering it.
Out here, in the world in which we live there’s a reason we had to make all these laws. But also, your employer has the right to have an employee perform her job and the consequences of unexplained or frequent absences might actually harm you as much as bias. Decide which path fits into your ethics and go boldly forward.
Question: I work at a small law firm. Recently, the partners asked if I would write for our blog. My first piece was referred to a partner’s sister, an editor.
When I saw her edits, I couldn’t recognise my piece. The partner only wanted to know if I accepted her sister’s edits. I did because I didn’t want to completely rewrite it or disappoint the partner.
Having never had anything reviewed by a professional editor before, is this the process?
Answer: The only way to save yourself from editors is to write like such an identifiable and idiosyncratic wing nut that they don’t even know where to start with your text and soon enough they move on to an easier victim or just decline to publish you.
Question: Recently, our boss said I and four others were no longer going to do our jobs. They had decided to consolidate our work into different sites.
However is now months later and we’ve not had any update as to when this will happen. We recently made an enquiry as to when we might hear and were told “it’s not a priority”.
Do I sit and wait for my severance or start looking for a new job with a new company? I don’t trust them anymore.
Answer: In case you’re wondering if this is crazy, it is. Workers, despite providing most or all of the value of the business, are also puzzle pieces in the grand scheme of middle managers who come up with solutions all day.
Middle management is all about the act of imagining towards a set of goals. So, your life is the consequence of someone whiteboarding in a room and issuing a sentence that starts off with: “What if…” and always ends up like: “We move Bob’s team to the Lansing office, close the DC shop and then fold all the remaining analytics people into the finance pod! Let us now repair to the blood-drinking room.”
But your situation is true for all of us. They just did something dumb or maybe kind, but poorly. They decided to give you an advance heads-up that your jobs were going to be some other kind of thing. The rest of us will just have to be taken by surprise.