We can't all be Sheryl Sandberg. Help me lean out.
October 18, 2015 3:35 PM   Subscribe

How can I respectfully and professionally decline opportunities to learn more/give more at work?

I've worked at my company for about a year and a half. When I first started, I was given job duties far beyond what I was told I'd be doing, with little training and tight deadlines. I worked tons of overtime to compensate for my lack of ability, and while I eventually became much better at my job, my personal life and mental health suffered during that time. I also realized that most other employees were working similar hours, and that evening and weekend work was expected for everyone.

After 6 months of regular stress-crying, insomnia, and thinking about work all the time, I began responding to most after-hours demands with "I'm sorry, I'm not available." It took a while, but I finally pared back my involvement to a 9-5 schedule, which I'm firm about most of the time. I do a good job and am well-liked by my team and other departments, so I haven't suffered any blowback other than some noticeable side-eye from upper management. I've decided I can live with this, since the company's culture is toxic and I'm actively looking for other jobs.

However, the past 6 months have seen a steady exodus of employees from the company, largely due to employees getting fed up with unreasonable workloads and lack of recognition/compensation for their work, along with a number of other issues. (Morale is so bad that everyone, including middle managers and senior employees, talk openly about their job searches when out of earshot of upper management.) In the past month, almost a third of my team has quit, and we haven't found qualified candidates for their roles. As you might expect, everyone has been expected to pick up the work of those who have left.

Recently, my boss pulled me aside and informed me that I've been doing a great job the past few months and will be receiving a substantial raise. She also informed me that I'll be expected to take on a bigger role within our team. This wasn't negotiated; I was voluntold. While my boss's description was vague at the time, it looks increasingly like I'll be expected to travel to industry events (I hate traveling), as well as eventually supervise other employees (I don't want to be a manager). These would be amazing growth opportunities for someone looking to advance, but I'm not that someone.

I'm glad the bosses realize the value of my work (and I like the money, let's be honest), but I place a much higher value on my personal relationships and free time than I do on having an impressive career. To me, no amount of money is worth regularly working more than 40 hours a week.The initial conversation with my boss caught me off guard, so I didn't object to anything I was presented with at the time, but I don't want any part of this. How can I maintain the work-life balance I've fought for, as professionally and reasonably as possible?
posted by Owlcat to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Suck it up for now and brush up the resume? Whatever you do, don't get used to the extra salary. Bank it and use it to buffer your transition to a true 9-5 in a non-supervisory capacity.

Best of luck, and don't let it get you down.
posted by slateyness at 3:39 PM on October 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Use the industry events to network. Yes, it sucks but it could open some doors and get you out of there. Go to the lunches and cocktail hours and chat with people.
posted by cabingirl at 4:13 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

"will be receiving a substantial raise"

Don't believe a word of this until it appears in your bank account.

If you can afford to lose this job, make an ultimatum. "What did you have in mind? Great, now double it and make it retroactive for the past 2 months."
posted by paulcole at 4:13 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree that you probably need to leave the company for a place that actually respects your goals (they do exist!), but in the meantime I would just openly say that you can't take on more work. They won't like it, but if everyone else is leaving, it will be difficult for them to fire you. So, you will have to go to your boss and say, "I'm glad you like the work I've been doing, and of course I'd be happy to get a raise, but I don't want to manage, and when I took this job it was with the understanding that there would be no travel."

That is a respectful and professional thing for you to say; unfortunately it sounds like you're working with disrespectful, unprofessional people, so I don't know how it will work out for you.
posted by mskyle at 4:40 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would not usually give this advice, but yours is an unusual situation. You need to ask for a meeting with your boss to "more clearly understand" your new responsibilities. And your mindset should be that this is a negotiation, not an ultimatum from upper management to you. Beforehand, look around with clear eyes and give a lot of thought to what you can do to contribute and what you are not prepared to do. Make lists, take them with you, use like a poker hand and check off as you move through the negotiation. Use the good old Metafilter "That won't be possible" on your non-negotiables such as traveling. Substitute the task you ARE willing to take on. "It won't be possible for me to travel, but I will be willing to ...." It's fine to say that you will not consider working overtime. You are not the droid they are looking for, and that's that. But you do want the meeting to have a positive and professional tone.

They will probably throw the raise in your face to guilt you, but just look kind of sad and say "yes, I understand, but this wasn't discussed with me beforehand. If it had been, we could have avoided any misunderstandings." Because they should have done so, they know it, it was a desperation move on their part. That doesn't mean you have to go along with it.

Always remember this is a negotiation. And if your team is crumbling, you have the upper hand. You have the upper hand! You are negotiating from a position of power. They aren't going to fire you. They aren't going to retaliate in any way because they need you. Come up with some key phrases and practice in front of a mirror until you can present them calmly and professionally. You are basically writing your own job description, and valued employees do it all the time.

Be calm, be professional, be polite, be prepared, and be firm. This really is a huge opportunity for you, just not in the way your managers think it is.
posted by raisingsand at 4:41 PM on October 18, 2015 [21 favorites]

raisingsand's third paragraph in spades. you have no idea how much clout you have. you can negotiate here.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:46 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

raisingsand's advice should work in theory, yes. BUT, people are not always rational, especially people known to be terrible managers who drive all their employees to quit. If you push the "upper hand" thing too far, be prepared for the slim chance that it could be your last day. Or that they pretend to listen to you, then assign you tasks anyway you said you didn't want to do. Because who else is there? And then you'll refuse and get fired, or you won't get fired but the office will be hostile all the time with you looking like a lazy piece of shit not doing "your" work (even though you told them ahead of time so it's their own fault) and by then they'll give you terrible references.

I think the people who have left already are onto something. This is an amazing opportunity for you to take a leadership role and remodel that organization with a wrecking ball - if you only wanted to put in that (considerable without enthusiastic support from above) level of effort. Which you don't. So.
posted by ctmf at 5:04 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree raisingsand's advice is right, IF a certain amount of rationality on the part of your management can be assumed.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:23 AM on October 19, 2015

« Older Car accident with neighbor: what do I do in this...   |   Changing Value Systems; Re-tuning moral compass Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.