How to set boundaries at work?
February 3, 2016 12:14 PM   Subscribe

My bosses are going to check in with me and I need to make a few requests

Disclaimer: I am in a bitter mood right now so not as diplomatic as usual. So I am relying on you wonderful mefites to talk me off the ledge.

I work in an open concept office. I started like 3 months ago and my bosses keep saying they are going to hold a check in meeting with me ( it has been postponed twice now).

Everyone seems to work in a 'collaborative' style, meaning instead of one person being tasked with a job and completing it from start to finish, there are two or more people working on a task that one person could do, and relying on yet more people to finish it. Meaning every person gets interrupted from their work many times each hour.

As for me, I love the people and the sense of community, but in terms of being able to work, I am very frustrated and am having anxiety and depression and feelings of resentment. I am not sure how much of this I should share with the bosses. I need help for the anxiety and depression but I don't know where to start as I don't have health coverage or a family doctor. Please note I am NOT planning to quit this job in the next few months so don't bother suggesting that.

The things that bother me:
-- I have NO space. My desk is tiny and is attached to two other desks and is smack dab in the middle of the room, people are always having conversations behind my desk or in front of it.

-- I was given very little training / information is shared by multiple people so that whenever I am asked to do a task, I try to start, but then have to ask like 6 different people for different pieces of information before I can move forward. They have a server which is supposed to hold all the information , but not everyone uses it and it's super convoluted to use, so even if that is my first step, usually its useless and I have to go ask somebody or have a 10-long email chain to answer a simple question

-- My two bosses are admin for basically the whole office so everyone is always vying for their help. I am supposed to be here to help them, but often times do not have enough information to do the tasks they assign. One of my bosses has suffered health issues that made him take a leave of absence, and yet I still have to watch him burning himself out as we speak. He coordinates several projects with Artist types who casually dump insane amounts of work on him according to their own lax and lazy schedules.

-- Basically every task we have to do ends up in this limbo land where everyone is running around asking each other incessant questions instead of getting the task done.

-- In this chaotic environment I can complete the work to a degree but my best productivity will never come out, therefore how will I ever do well in this job?

-- Because the environment is hard for me emotionally, I'm not always in a sociable mood there. But since we're all in close quarters with each other, there seems to be an expectation that I'm going to interact with them all the time instead of working. People make comments about each other and everything happens out in the open, there seems to be very little discretion and NO privacy

Obviously my bosses are not going to be happy if I sit down and complain for half an hour. They will also not be happy if I tell them things they already know and can't change.

1) How much of these problems can I share with them without sounding whiny? Most of them they can't do anything about, but nonetheless they are having a bad effect on me and my motivation to work.

2) How can I phrase these things in a more positive, assertive way?. I need to be able to explain the problem and assert my needs unapologetically, but without placing blame or making them feel bad ( they already perform a lot of emotional labour themselves). I don't know how much I can reasonably ask for without sounding whiny , but I think it's better to address these issues than leave them alone and have to quit this job or get reprimanded.
posted by winterportage to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Should probably mention the reasons I still want to work there
-- extremely interesting cultural diversity
-- in my field
-- pay not terrible
-- amazing sense of community and amazing coworkers
-- a dark sense of fulfillment
posted by winterportage at 12:17 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can't share problems without sounding whiney. But you can share solutions and sound great. So what are the solutions you're recommending to solve these problems?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:25 PM on February 3, 2016 [23 favorites]

The best thing to do is to come up with solutions, instead of just having problems. Will working from home a day, or an afternoon per week help you concentrate, and deal with the open office issues? What about a "concentration cube" that can be scheduled for use (rules around frequency, and time TBD) by your team -that would help you have an area to concentrate as well as benefit your co-workers, it could be scheduled like a conference room so that it can't be dominated by one person, etc.

How are you handling task management, across the group? Maybe you can have them help come up with some way of managing that, a group kanban board, even if it is using pieces of paper on the wall.

What are you doing for yourself, during the work day? Are you spending the whole time in the space? Can you go out for lunch, or offer to take coffee orders (I don't mean you pay for them, you fly, but they buy their own), or otherwise get away for a few minutes?

Good luck! I totally appreciate what you are saying as the worker, and as a manager, I would mostly want some guidance from you in what *you* think would help the situation.
posted by kellyblah at 12:27 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ask for what you want. Don't list all the things that frustrate you, tell them what you need to do your job well.

1. I need a bigger desk
2. I need more training
3. I need complete information regarding the task in order to complete it quickly and thoroughly
4. I need to understand better how to get tasks to completion
5. I need a secluded place in order to better concentrate and complete tasks

I will say, don't be surprised if this check in meeting is some kind of 'come to Jesus' thing. You think you're doing okay, they might be wondering why you didn't read their minds and instantly know how to do your job.

If you feel like you need to be prepared for this, for the love of Christ make notes for yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:28 PM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

IME, any boss that implements an open concept work space that includes teeny tiny desks is going to be hostile to anyone who suggests it's not an environment conducive to productivity and positive morale. Be prepared to discover that this is the crux of all your issues at your job and that you will not be able to change it.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:30 PM on February 3, 2016 [20 favorites]

You are allowed to ask your boss to prioritize your tasks and core function; and that's probably how I'd lead in.

Something along the lines of:

"In the 3 months I have been here, I have covered A,B,C and D. and noticed 1,2,3,4 going on around me". I feel I can best help with A,1,2 and D, and would be happy do B &C with clearer training. To meet these goals, I can do X and Y, but I really do need Z1 and Z2".

Where X&Y would be your solutions to making things better: documentation maybe? Z1 is space related: desk against a wall so no one walks behind you? or permission to wear noise canceling headphones for 2-3hrs each morning? and Z2. is a bi-weekly check in to review tasks and responsibilities.
posted by larthegreat at 12:34 PM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

This sounds like a systemic workplace dysfunction/culture thing, as it's not just you running around asking for help all the time. I don't know that you can change this, as it seems like chaos is the way everyone operates and it's up to the higher-ups to make sure training is complete and the materials you need to do your job are organized. They don't sound like they're handling it.

You could ask to be moved from the middle of the room to a corner or elsewhere that's less trafficy and address the other stuff with the bosses as a matter of efficiency and not of frustration (less time wasted looking for info and materials) and see what they say. You may just need to deal with the fact that this is how it is, for everyone, at this particular workplace and hopefully the good outweighs the bad. If/when the time comes that this is no longer true, you may decide that the chaos is not worth it and move on.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 12:45 PM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

I do think that venting (as you are doing a tiny bit here) before the meeting is probably going to help you be less emotional and more focused during the meeting. If you have some trusty friends you can talk to about this stuff, I'd suggest doing so. A lot. Until you yourself are feeling even more sympathy for your bosses and coworkers. Plus, maybe the trusty friends will have more good ideas -- or help you come up with some, since you'll be able to converse and give/get more information with them.

Metafilter: a dark sense of fulfillment (Sorry, I just had to).
posted by amtho at 12:58 PM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

2nd Klaxon Aoooogah and Hermione Granger - your bosses like things the way they are. All those processes are deliberate, and changing them - if they wanted to; doubtful - would be expensive.

I think you can say you're thrilled about the collaborative approach and are so happy to be learning as much as you are, but that being right in the middle of the room / action means it can be hard for you to concentrate, sometimes. You can ask, would there be a chance of moving a bit closer to the wall? Other than that, I think you have to just recognize you're in Rome and adapt to this, somehow.

Since no one uses the server, ask (interrupt) people for info if you don't need a record of it, and keep that info on a sheet for yourself. Also keep a personal to-do list (e.g.) so it's easier to flit between different tasks while you're waiting on one thing or another. You are probably doing as well as anyone who hasn't adapted yet can in that office, don't judge yourself by ideal standards. You'll have some feedback soon.

Re your ailing, artist-wrangling boss - he just hasn't had enough time / energy to work out a communication and workflow that involves you, sounds like. Maybe say you'd like to support him more effectively, and you'd love a bit more direction on how you might do that. You could maybe ask for time alone with him to work that out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:29 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd focus on how to get the training you need to do the job, rather than any complaints about the layout. (I think open plan offices are horrible and absolutely make jobs harder to do, but your bosses won't rearrange the office to accomodate one person, and I'm guessing there's probably not even any space to have a more private workspace, right?) So focus on how to get from where you are now with assignments (having to ask six different people for help) to where you want to be (able to get started and make progress as soon as you receive an assignment.) That's the kind of stuff your managers should be able to help with, and if you word it right it won't come across as complaining about how disorganized the office is, but rather as what you can do to help make their jobs easier for them.
posted by MsMolly at 5:33 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

You have a leadership opportunity. When given a task, organize it, document it, and follow good standards for completing it.

Pay attention to what is working well in the office; very often, fixing a process breaks other stuff.
posted by theora55 at 8:54 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

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