Should I request a transfer? Get a new job?
January 15, 2014 5:15 AM   Subscribe

I am currently working a job I've been at for 4 months. I haven't really enjoyed said job (particularly the hours it has required), and have recently suffered a setback that has made it more difficult than ever for me to deal with it. I was thinking of requesting a transfer, but I'm not sure if that's the right idea. I'd really like things not to backfire.

When I was hired, I was told the hours would be more than 9-5, but thought I would be ok because 1) I'd be doing work I thought sounded interesting and 2) I figured the hours wouldn't consistently be that much greater (i.e. more hours would be around some project's crunch time).

Four months in, I've barely done any work of the interesting variety I thought I'd be getting; instead, I do rote updating of documents and research of a tedious variety. My work schedule is much more than I thought - I am working a minimum of 10 hours a day (usually more like 11-12), in addition to some weekends. As an exempt employee, I get no overtime. This would still be fine (though not great) had it not been for the recent passing of a parent and grandparent (both 3 weeks ago).

I cannot handle the heavy workload anymore (this week, for example, I've gotten less than 5 hours of sleep a night Saturday - Tuesday). Yesterday, I broke down from stress and frustration, and had to lock myself in a bathroom roughly 4 times so no one would see me crying. I want to ask to be reassigned to a different department where I might have a lighter workload, enabling me to go home and spend time with my family, especially as we are still grieving.

I've thought about the consequences to my career, but at this point I honestly don't think I want to even stay in this field (I've been contemplating going back to school and getting a different degree). I thought this job would be one where people would come to me with problems, that I could then 1) figure out why the problem happened and 2) figure out solutions to (which I thought I would enjoy), but instead I am implementing the solutions of others/keeping records of the solutions others come up with, something I don't enjoy at all. It doesn't appear that things will change at the job either.

Is asking for a transfer the right move? Should I be looking into different jobs? If so, what kind/how can I determine what kind (given what I stated above)? Any help will be much appreciated.
posted by Sakura3210 to Work & Money (13 answers total)
I think you should look for a new job. These folks have not been straight with you and there's no reason to believe that things would be different in another department. If this is the corporate culture, it's the same all over.

Start looking for a new job at a new company. When you interview, be super-honest about what YOU want in a new position. "I am very family oriented and work-life balance is key for me. I have no problem working a regular work day, and going above and beyond in extraordinary circumstances, however, in my current position 60-70 hour weeks are the norm and that's not sustainable for me." I am the same way and that's my standard statement. No good manager will balk.

You can also stand up for yourself right now in your current position. Meet with your manager and explain that you are disappointed in the types of projects that you're doing, that the heavy workflow is depleting your resources and that you want to brainstorm with him/her to see how this can change. "I am finding the workload here more than just one person can handle. I am spending 60-70 hours per week at work, and it is affecting my family and my personal time. I cannot sustain this level of activity, what are some strategies for bringing this job down to a more manageable level? Additionally, when I accepted this position I was lead to believe that the projects I would be doing would be of X nature, most of what I'm doing today is Y. Is this a temporary thing? If so, when will we be working on X?"

Give your manager a chance to make it right. If they can't or won't, moving on is the right answer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:31 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'll try not to threadsit, but I'd like to say a few of those questions have been raised in team meetings, receiving the following responses:

1. Bringing job to manageable level - we are to "pass work down" to others. The problem is that there is no one to pass the work down to. All members of our small team are working these hours, and we cannot give the biggest time-suck projects to interns as they involve confidential information.

2."Y" nature work - not a temporary thing (based on convo's with co-workers who've been around longer + looking at our shared database of projects). Instead, when/if we get "X" work, we will be expected to do it alongside the "Y" work.

Mind you, boss does not appear to like "Y" work either, but their boss tasked them with it (apparently doesn't fit their job description either).
posted by Sakura3210 at 5:44 AM on January 15, 2014

I'm not exactly sure why you're not leaving at 5, because I don't know the nature of your work. Why aren't you able to put down the work you're doing and pick it up again in the morning? If all of you aren't able to get your work done without lots of unpaid overtime, then you may want to see if more resources can be hired. this your first job? Many jobs require extra work, and most jobs aren't exactly what you signed up for, so your question sounds very much like someone who has just entered the workforce.
posted by xingcat at 5:54 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are you a lawyer? I saw in your previous questions that you were going to law school. This kind of workload is pretty typical in law offices, unfortunately.
posted by mareli at 6:09 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are two issues here- the current job makes you unhappy and secondly, two deaths of immediate family. The grieving process isn't over in a month or two but for the first 2-3 months your brain may not function much at all!! So unless you are going to become homeless or unemployed in that time, pace yourself a bit!

I have been in a similar situation- death in family (plus lots of other stuff), loved that job but had to leave due to funding issues, worked through the job search etc but the new job has turned out to be a nightmare. I cant say that I "regret" joining the current place because on paper it was excellent but in reality it isn't, and there was no way of finding out without actually joining the group. My point is that s&%@ can happen on top of other s*%@, which then you have to deal with. The current situation may not be the worst case scenario, as bad as it feels right now.

Regarding changing jobs, I'd say that there is a good reason why its said that you should not make major life decisions in the first year of a death of an immediate family member. Changing jobs, relocating, an international relocation (if applicable) are MAJOR life changes on top of the ones you have had. So its not going to be easy. Secondly, better the devil you know that the one you don't. All of this may sound as if I am almost telling you to play it "safe". Maybe I am, not for the sake of it but because you are likely going to be fragile for much longer than you think/would like to so take it easy, and play safe.

I'd first exhaust all avenues of decreasing your work load/ incorporating more personal time (for you, not family) where at the end of the day you can sigh deeply. Figure out if your extended work hours are something you are being asked to do or whether you are really pressuring yourself as well. The latter is very easy to do so find a compromise. Find out how much time off you are allowed- basically cut down as much as you possibly can. Work is never going to end, and finding a balance starts with you deciding to set your boundaries and stick to them. Sure sometimes you need to work extra hours, but for some reason it also sounds like you need to make some changes yourself too (your boss's issues with his boss are things you should not even be remotely concerned about right now, for instance).

After all that, I'd give myself a month or two- or three- and then start looking for another job. Not with the mindset that 'Good God, I need to leave ASAP' but more like a goal you are going to accomplish with absolute focus and determination.

Regarding the bathroom crying and frustration and the emotions, this is where the "please be kind to yourself" comes in. What it means is that if this happened to a friend, you'd be telling them that its only natural to feel this way and they need to let themselves feel WHATEVER they are feeling, without judging themselves for it. You need to tell yourself that,over and over. You also need some good friends who have been down the road and are more compassionate for it, who will be there to listen when you need to vent etc. Grief support groups can also be helpful. Also know that there is professional help, exactly for these kind of situations. But most importantly, don't dismiss the possible resources or solutions without giving them your sincere and best effort first.

Maybe this isnt the work&money kind of answer but I hope some of this help. I am sorry for your losses, and I feel for you.
posted by xm at 6:13 AM on January 15, 2014

If you're practicing law in NYC (just a deduction based on prior questions/answers), feel free to PM me to discuss specifics -- i.e. the company/firm you work for, whether that's normal for that firm, the practice area you're in, which practice areas or firms might be more in your wheelhouse, navigating the legal world in NYC, etc.

For the bereavement issue, I'd just take all of my vacation (which, if you're at a firm, is "unlimited") and then, if you can afford it, unpaid leave after that. It's really hard to get fired at a law firm (outside of annual layoffs due to low utilization), and if you don't like the place anyway, then who cares if you do get fired? [also, if you went to a T1 school, as your prior question implies, then you really don't have to worry about it]
posted by melissasaurus at 6:44 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

whatever you decide to do about the job search in the longer term, take your vacation or any other kind of leave you might have and let your brain process all of this. it's very hard to cope/adapt and especially to make changes when you've had deaths in the family like this.

unfortunately there's no option for bereavement leave under the FMLA but you might want to have a look at this, since if you want to spend time with your family to help them deal with things, you might be able to make that argument to your employer to get FMLA leave.

and don't forget that you have access to solutions for decreasing stress right now. if you feel yourself panicking or breaking down at work, you can go to a psychiatrist and get a mild dose of a sedative to take as needed. if you're up at night unable to sleep you can get a sleep aid, etc. think of it like using a hammer to put a nail in; just a tool to help fix a problem, especially now in the short term.

once the grieving is less intense, you can always start doing a job search for somewhere with better balance. if you are an attorney in the nyc area, hiring a recruiter might be a good investment at some point.
posted by zdravo at 7:27 AM on January 15, 2014

Response by poster: I'm working for the government. I actually avoided firms precisely because I'd heard the horror stories regarding work/life balance and wanted to avoid that. Somehow I've still ended up in this situation. I was given 5 personal days, all of which I've used. No bereavement, and sick and vacation days don't kick in until I've worked for a few more months, so all that's left is unpaid leave.

To answer Xingcat: none of the team can get their work done without putting in this amount of unpaid overtime.

At this point, I feel like the legal field is not for me, and don't really want to have anything to do with it anymore...
posted by Sakura3210 at 7:28 AM on January 15, 2014

At this point, I feel like the legal field is not for me

That may be the case, and I wish you luck as you try to figure that out. It's a daunting prospect to walk away from law, given the time and expense involved just to start practicing. I myself have thought about leaving the law, though I'm quite happy with my current in-house position.

That said, no one should go in to law expecting 9-5 work. At firms, you're slave to the billable hour. In government, it's just a factor of the workload and under-staffing. Even working in house is not without its pressures; I spent all Sunday at the office scrambling to get some projects completed. Lawyering can be lucrative, and it can be rewarding, but it is virtually never predictable or easy.

By way of a datapoint, in my first year at a big NYC firm, I billed 2,400 hours, to say nothing of the time I was just in the office. About ten years in to my practice, I'm in house working 9-6 or -7 (albeit with fewer weekends). So it does get better, but not radically better.

In any event, four months seems far too short to walk away from a professional degree you spent three years earning, and honestly, it seems too short to me to put in a request for a transfer. I'd wait it out at least a year before making any moves.

You have my sympathies for your losses. I'd consider dipping into that unpaid time.

Good luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:44 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Even if you didn't love your job, were you thinking seriously about changing jobs before the deaths of your parent and grandparent?

Speaking as someone who lost a parent while I was in a job I didn't love but wasn't actually that bad, I can say with the benefit of hindsight that SO MUCH of my unhappiness with my job was actually due to grief. Deep grief manifests itself in a lot of different ways, and I found that, rather than being a separate thing, it actually propagated along all the pre-existing fault lines in my life, meaning that things that were already causing me manageable amounts of stress, like my job or my relationship, were suddenly WAY MORE STRESSFUL AND ANNOYING, and I had way less mental bandwidth for dealing with them.

I've also found that many people who are grieving a death attempt to fix all the other things that are bothering them, because they can't fix the thing that is actually causing their pain. Sometimes this is productive, sometimes it's not.

This is why the conventional wisdom is that you shouldn't make major changes in the year after you lose someone close to you. The "year" thing is kind of arbitrary, but the fact that you've only been in this job for four months and have had such recent, major losses, makes me think that maybe it's not a great idea to be precipitate. Also, if it's only been four months and this is your first job out of law school, there is no way you're maximally efficient at your job yet. It doesn't sound like your workplace or work are actively toxic, just that you're not enjoying it enough to do it for 10 hours a day. Speaking personally, I'd try to take a week or so of unpaid leave to recharge and mentally commit to finishing one year at the current job while focusing on trying to become more efficient with your time. That's only 8 more months, and you can start the job search in less than that if you still want to leave.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:29 AM on January 15, 2014

Admiral Haddock is spot on. You know those "It Gets Better" ads for LGBT teens, well, in the legal field, it doesn't get better, you just make more money. In house is the "cushiest" job you'll get and you're still looking at 9 hour days. Law firm partners still put in 10+ hour days, including weekends. Government is severely understaffed, so at the bottom of the totem pole, you're not going to be doing any real work, but you'll be crazy busy (as you've discovered).

The only way to get a 9-5 gig is in a tangential field. In order to get a decent salary in one of those jobs ($100K+ for NYC), you often need to have practiced for 3-5 years at least. If you don't mind crazy hours as long as you're helping people, you could go solo (only do this if you have a significant financial safety net) or look at the public interest-type places (NYLPI, Advocates for Children, etc). and your school's career services are good places to look. Speaking of your school, you could look for an administrative job at your alma mater (student services, career services, financial aid, etc).

Tangential fields to look at are publishing (Lexis/Westlaw/PLI), legal recruiting, PR/corporate communications, political campaigns, NGOs (maybe work internationally for a while to shake things up).

Before quitting, I'd ask to take a leave of absence due to the deaths in your family. Use that time to grieve and do some soul searching.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:33 AM on January 15, 2014

Response by poster: To clarify (in case it changes answers): I did not go into school intending to become a lawyer; I was interested in getting the degree for other purposes (and indeed, I am not working as an attorney right now). So while I was aware going in that lawyers had rough jobs, I did not think it would apply to me. Perhaps this was stupid on my part; in any case, I cannot now go back and change my decisions, only try to fix them.

In addition, I have found that I have changed since the time I initially went to school. Having helped care for those who died, my time has become more important than money or prestige (hence my thoughts about changing career course).
posted by Sakura3210 at 9:05 AM on January 15, 2014

Can you talk to your doctor and get signed off for some sick (stress) leave? All the things you are thinking about your career might well be true, but it sounds like you need to deal with your grief and it's aftermath first. Once you get some rest, you will be in a better position to make big decisions.
posted by rpfields at 1:09 PM on January 15, 2014

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