Trying to "lean in." Failing miserably.
March 19, 2013 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Please help with a complicated work situation. Some context: Mid-twenties, female, graduated from a top-ranked university in liberal arts (I know, I know, but it worked out in the end. Sort of.) I work in sort of a niche, new media-y entertainment field, for which I am extremely grateful. I love this industry and I love the company I work for. And yet, snowflakes abound…

I work on the marketing side of this entertainment company. It’s growing rapidly, lots of young employees (and clientele), etc. I like my role ok, but my eventual plan was to hopefully earn enough cred to move over into the writing/creative side of things, in about a year or two.

Now, things have derailed. A co-worker of mine is dealing with mental stress/anxiety and took a month off completely for work, during which I took over her duties (in addition to my own.) Now, she is back, and working part-time indefinitely. My superiors’ solution (all women, if that makes a difference) to that issue is to have me continue to cover most of her duties as well as my own.

I hate this idea. I feel like I’m only contributing 50% to each task, since I’m struggling to just stay on top of everything. I can’t be as creative or interesting in my work as I’d like to, and it is suffering as a result. I am worried that this will reflect poorly on me when it’s time for my review. This girl has a ton of respect and likeability in this company that I just don’t have, and I fear if I speak up then it’ll look like I’m trying to tear her down or something, or that I’m not a team player, which is simply not the case. I worry that taking this on will more fully entrench me in this role, which I definitely don’t want to do forever. At the same time, if I don’t do it 100%, I am afraid I won’t be considered for a promotion or lateral move when I ask.

I guess I’m really asking two questions, here:

1. How do I move laterally within a company? I’ve literally never worked anywhere longer than 9 months; I’ve been here about 7, but I intend to stay for a very long time and work my way up and around the ladder. How long is an appropriate time to wait to ask for a transfer?

2. How do I deal with this particular situation with the co-worker?

I would like to say that in every other aspect this company is great for me. Great benefits and decent pay (especially for an entry-level entertainment position), great people, and normal hours, for the most part.

I don’t want to have to leave, but I don’t know what else to do. This company is rather known for having flexible roles/titles, so I think I need to stay in order to be able to move and gain experience in the writing & creative dept. – anywhere else I think my marketing background would be used against me in that respect. If that makes sense.

If it helps, I have a history of people-pleasing/depression/anxiety myself, so I sympathize with the co-worker (who is much younger than I am) – I had a similar episode myself in a former job that was extremely stressful. The issue isn't with her. It is with the structure of my own role in the company.

Thanks all! This is the only non-depression-inducing job I've had and ever liked so I really don't want to fuck it up.
posted by themaskedwonder to Work & Money (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
At only 7 months in, I think you have to give it more time. The thing with the co-worker will shake out eventually, and I'd be surprised if they were willing to give you a promotion before the 2-year mark (whose plan was it to move you to writing/creative in a "year or two"? Keep in mind they may not want to move you that fast). In the meantime, keep an eye out for interesting projects you can offer to help out with. I've been there, done that, and it sucked at the time but it ended up working out well. Hopefully it works out similarly for you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:15 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is just about the biggest opportunity you could have been given. You're supporting a well-liked coworker who is back, but struggling, and are apparently doing well enough that your boss assumes you can keep up with the work.

I would be honest with your boss that you don't want your work to suffer, either the work you normally do or the work you're helping out with temporarily. Ask for the resources (extra time, extra people, etc.) that will help you with doing this.

Yes, it's more work, but most people don't get the opportunity to shine so obviously, especially if they haven't worked anywhere more than 9 months. Take this ball and run with it.
posted by xingcat at 12:15 PM on March 19, 2013 [21 favorites]

I think we've all been there. Your female bosses will have all done the work of two men at one point in their lives and they naturally assume that you're up to the task, what with your vagina and uterus and all.

And therein lies the issue, you want to be flexible and a team-player, but you don't want to be dumped on.

One thing that I'd do is to meet with your managers and bring a list of the duties that you're currently responsible for.

Phrase the meeting request as a "re-calibration", now that your co-worker is back, albeit part-time. In fact, include your co-worker in the planning.

Put an agenda together (managers LOVE this) List out all your regular tasks and the tasks you inherited from your co-worker. Give a brief update and status report and a recommendation for the future of the task:

"I took over the Gazingus Pins Report from Janine, and it acutally meshes with my Framistannie Report, so I think it makes sense for me to continue to do the report on a weekly basis.

The User Group Meeting is more Janine's wheelhouse, so I recommend passing that back to her, I've secured the venue, Janine needs to plan catering and the A/V."

One thing you may want to broach is how long this will continue. "So to conclude I think it's appropriate to re-visit the time-frame that I'll be covering for Janine. While I understand that it's important to be flexible and a team player, I can't help but be concerned about the quality of my own work suffering, I'd love to get some feedback from you, what is your perception of my ability to handle the extra work?" You are fishing for compliments here, but go ahead, be shameless.

Be non-emotional, pragmatic and assertive. Feel free to ask questions or for feedback on anything you're doing. Be up-beat and positive about everything.

As for moving up laterally, once you get your co-worker squared away, start nosing around in the departments you have an interest in. Offer to take some of the folks to lunch so that you can pick their brains. Make friends.

7 months is a very short time, have patience, learn a lot, and start making allies now. You might be prepared for a lateral move after about 18 month to 24 months in your position.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:21 PM on March 19, 2013 [16 favorites]

Well, the time to have a talk with them about it is now. If you bring it up now it seems relevant and can be presented as "hey, I can't really give it my all with this setup and extra workload. How should we deal with this?" Rather than after its been a problem for a while, when it will look, sound, and quack like an excuse.

I'm definitely not on the side of "grin and bear it" if you're work is suffering. At least bring it up with them so there's some sort of record of you voicing your concerns. This won't stop you from getting thrown under the bus later, but it will look a hell of a lot better.

I also agree on the 7 month thing with switching positions, it's been almost two years at my current "laid back, interesting" job and I haven't even gotten a raise. I'm just barely even starting to consider that.

On preview though, I really like what xingcat said. Definitely present this as "I want to do/am enjoying doing this work, but I'm struggling to take on the full load" and especially how they phrased it.

This is an opportunity to shine if the people watching it are worthwhile at all, and weren't just thinking "oh, pile it off on the new girl". It isn't always a test even if it feels like one, but you can potentially present it as such later anyways at a review.

Regardless, I think its infinitely better than any other option to talk to them though, even if the gist is "this is simply too much work to do at a high standard of quality".
posted by emptythought at 12:23 PM on March 19, 2013

Response by poster: Hi Pink Superhero, that was my own plan, ha. Maybe I was being a bit too optimistic. Or entitled. I'm not really sure how corporate timelines work. I do know that upon hiring I was told that moving around in the company was encouraged (and I've seen it happen many times already.)
posted by themaskedwonder at 12:34 PM on March 19, 2013


I've managed people for 20+ years

this is going to take some finesse.

never sabotage a co-worker who has more juice than you, it's dumb and regardless of the situation, always strive for win/win.

The person who has gone half time? Take her to lunch. Tell her you are swimming a little, ask her how she was able to do it all so well etc... make a plan together so you both don't get sucked into the abyss.

Performance (for reviews) should be measured on how well you execute to meet the goals that are set out for you. If there are no goals to measure... get some or set some and report on your progress.

Because you recently got more responsibility dumped on your lap, an appropriate conversation with your boss goes something like this:

"I'm feeling overwhelmed now that awesome coworker is half time. I feel like I'm not able to give my best to (insert responsibilities) because I'm a little swamped from taking on (insert awesome coworker's responsibilities). I want to be great, not good. Can you help me by taking a look at my plan to get control of (insert combined responsibilities)"

Give people an opportunity to help you, but do most of the work for them and you will do just fine.

execute on your plan. write down your wins and your fails.

communicate with your manager in writing at least once a week to give it some structure.

If you suck it up, support awesome coworker, get feedback from your boss on your plan to get a handle on the work and commit to a plan and document everything... you are going to look pretty good at your 1 year review.

you have aggregated results to present.

during the review process you can discuss long term career goals.

I'd say a year is a good milestone to talk about a lateral move. Maybe longer if you are going to be travelling FAR put of your comfort zone.

If you can get someone in the department you want to work for to mentor you... and if you work your ass off... you will get credibility and the move you want.

Meanwhile you are racking up experience points and getting better at what you do every day.
posted by bobdow at 12:37 PM on March 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

I like my role ok, but my eventual plan was to hopefully earn enough cred to move over into the writing/creative side of things, in about a year or two.

If you want to be on the creative/production side, you need to working there. Not many people move from marketing to screenwriting, game design, music producing or directing or whatever it is. Sad but true. I understand that people want to get their feet in the door, but once you're in promotion or marketing, that's pretty much where you're going to stay, unless you are actively working on the other side--not just poking your head in the writers' room to say hello.

I wouldn't throw your co-worker under the bus, but I would find a way to get noticed by the people working where you want to be, and start working on how you're going to get there--doing coverage, writing specs, whatever it is.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:47 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree that this is a tough situation, and while you want to be a team player, sometimes--especially for women--that can mean you get work dumped on you.

There are great suggestions here re talking to your co-worker and getting her advice/tips on how to handle certain things, and also sitting down with your bosses. I would recommend taking a list of tasks/duties/upcoming projects and ask them to give you advice on which areas are the priorities. If you keep your tone businesslike and focus on the practicalities of how to get things done in the best interests of the company, you should not come across like you are trashing your co-worker at all. In fact, depending on how your initial discussion with her goes, the two of you could even approach your bosses together.
posted by rpfields at 12:49 PM on March 19, 2013

I'll add this to the helpful advice above: earmark the duties and projects that are most valuable to you (they fall into one or more categories of fame, fun or fortune*) and hold on to those. Have a shortlist of crap you don't like and tactfully see if those tasks can get re-delegated elsewhere. That will make your day-to-day more bearable and hopefully pay dividends. Remember: a great employee is not just a dumping ground for tasks. A great employee is captaining their own ship to produce the largest return on investment.

*When any project or task comes your way, ask yourself if it will bring you fame (within your company or outside of it), fortune (comes with some bonus attached or will be most favorable come raise time) or fun (the task personally gets you fired up or puts you in close relationships with people who are great to work with). Anything outside of those areas, try your best not to take on. You are too busy to put time to them. You have a lot of projects that are hot/primary and you don't know when you can get to it. Oh, hey, X coworker was just looking for something like that. I know it's not always possible to do this but I think you'll find that if you use this criteria it can help prioritize. Plus, marketing is the dumping ground for all sorts of things. I think people dump on marketing to avoid having to set priorities and hey, guess what, you just did it for them and their little task just isn't at the top of your list.
posted by amanda at 1:01 PM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

Ideefixe is totally right, and said what I tried to say in an earlier and ultimately deleted comment: It is really hard to make the kind of lateral move that you want to make in the entertainment industry. It's best to find a really low-level position in the part of the industry you want to work in and claw your way up than try to make a lateral move. I know a lot of people who've made this mistake, whether it's trying to move from reality to scripted tv to moving from marketing to production. It's really hard, and you should look for another job before you make a big stink about whatever is going on with your coworker.

I work in scripted television, so I may be completely off-base, but that's my somewhat-informed take on the issue.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:18 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

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