How can I deal mentally with a bad work situation?
April 4, 2019 11:57 AM   Subscribe

My non-profit job I have held for almost 3 years has furloughed me down to working 'as needed' due to financial issues. I have disliked my position the entire time, and have been trying to leave for years now. While I am madly hunting for a new job, I'm finding it hard to not want to just up and quit instead of hanging by a thread like this. It's been very difficult for me to stay mentally invested in my work when I am deadset on leaving. How can I reasonably deal with this?

My job has basically gone from 30 hours a week to working as tasks for me come up, which means some weeks I work no hours, some more, but on average I'm only working about 5 hours every two weeks. This began towards the end of January. I am able to collect unemployment and have been applying for jobs for months, but my organization still expects me to show up (virtually, as I work remotely) for various meetings and be available for projects as they start up, with the intent that eventually I will get back to full-time. New projects are starting to come up for me, and I'm just finding it incredibly difficult to put the attention into them they need. I have always hated working here, and this was the final nail in the coffin. The expectation that I hang around at home doing whatever but still be available to drop whatever I'm doing to show up for an hour meeting at 4:00, or suddenly throw my mind and energy into an analysis (I work in the science field) is taking a mental toll on me.

In a dream world, I could just quit without a new job lined up. But realistically, there's no reason for me to do that other than I just really don't want to be put on any of these new projects and have to dedicate serious mindspace to them.

Is there a way I can re-adjust my thinking to better feel dedicated to my work, even though it's a ridiculous situation? I'm hoping to get a new job soon, but in the meantime it's such a stressful scenario.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you quit, it's likely you will have to give up your unemployment. Also — I understand you really detest your job but you have something most jobseekers would envy. You are currently employed (even if just for a few hours a week) and receiving unemployment. Being currently employed (but having lots of free time) makes it easier to find a new job. Second, having unemployment money coming is a financial cushion many people don't have in the job search. This is definitely one of those, "if you can't change your situation just yet, change your attitude" type of situations. I don't know your work situation but is it possible to define that you can only be available certain days for meetings. Surely, they expect you to be looking for a new job, working a side gig, or learning new skills if they only have you working 5 hours a week.
posted by caveatz at 12:17 PM on April 4 [5 favorites]

I'd re-frame it as "this is the bullshit I have to do for 2.5 hours a week to keep my unemployment benefits."
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:18 PM on April 4 [31 favorites]

You don't need to quit, you just need to establish boundaries and manage expectations.

Being expected to "be on demand" is not fair if the hours are unpredictable and are variable. On the other hand, you have to eat somehow and presumably that means taking on other projects.

It's perfectly normal for freelancers (or any other working professional, for that matter) to book things into their calendar. If someone wants to have a meeting, you then find a time that works for everyone.

So, instead of just quitting, just book blocks of time when you are available for this org instead. Schedule meetings at those times instead. Asserting some control over your schedule will help your mental health.

In terms of finding another job, if you're used to working remotely, there has literally never been a better time to be a freelancer. You can work with anyone, anywhere in the world. It's often a lot easier to pick up a part-time freelance engagement than a full-time salaried job.

So focusing on freelancing will boost your income (and fill your calendar). Incrementally, this may allow you to walk away from this job you don't like at all.

As you might guess, this strategy is working well for me. As a marketing writer and manager, I support a family on one income in a relatively expensive but geographically isolated city in Canada by working with multiple clients.

If one client reduces hours or goes way, I have a couple of other ones to fall back on while I search for work to plug the hole.
posted by JamesBay at 12:20 PM on April 4 [5 favorites]

Perhaps you could propose a weekly rate that would average out those five hours so you at least know how much money you can expect on every paycheck? It seems like that'd remove one stressful variable from this situation, and would represent a greater commitment on their behalf than "eventually you'll be full-time again, really!"
posted by teremala at 12:24 PM on April 4

Seconding boundaries. If they expect you to be on call, they are expected to pay you for the hours when you’re waiting around on them. Otherwise, if they expect to use you 5 hours a week, it’s reasonable to block out everything besides 12-5 on Monday.

You can sic the state on them if they protest because requiring on-call without paying you for on-call hours basically hinders your job search and they are essentially making Unemployment “pay” for your on-call hours.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 12:31 PM on April 4 [15 favorites]

If you quit, it's likely you will have to give up your unemployment.

I don't think this is actually true in the OP's case. If you quit because your duties, hours, or pay were substantially changed, you can usually still collect unemployment.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:37 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]

nth'ing executive_dysfuncti0n, except you say 5 hours every 2 weeks, so 12-5 every other Monday.
posted by at at 12:46 PM on April 4

In the US, you can still collect unemployment while refusing work from a job that doesn't meet your job requirements. (Presuming your job requirements are reasonable by their standards: no more than an hour's travel time; at least 30 hours a week; within the standard pay of your industry, etc. You can't refuse all jobs that pay less than $200k/year for 10-hour workweeks and still collect unemployment.)

Check with your local unemployment agency before quitting. Definitely point out that you're being expected to be on call but not being paid for that. Discuss whether quitting would cut off your benefits.

And then either quit, or tell the company: "I can deal with only working for you for a few hours a week, but I need to know before the week starts when those are. And I will only be working those hours--I won't be doing prep or research in between attending meetings; I'll be coming in cold every time."

In some states, there's a minimum workday, often based on your "standard shift." If they expect you to be available to work 8-hour days, the minimum is 4 hours; they can't just pay you for two half-hour meetings in a week. You may need to talk to HR about what your "standard shift" is. If it's less than 4 hours - or it's, "you don't have one; you're freelance," you should be able to say, "then these are the 3 hours I'm available every week. Schedule meetings around them, or I won't show up."

I'm just finding it incredibly difficult to put the attention into them they need.

If they're paying you for 2-3 hours a week, that's all the time you should be putting into the job. You shouldn't even have to think about them for the rest of the week. If they only pay you for time spent at the meeting, then you take notes during the meeting, and when it's over, you save that into a folder called JOBSTUFF-COMPANYNAME and ignore it until the next meeting starts.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:06 PM on April 4

I doubt you can get them to cluster the time like people are suggesting, but I do think you can insist on not attending anything that comes up on short notice causing you to have to "drop whatever you're doing."

If you "have to dedicate serious mindspace" to these projects, I'd suggest trying to get paid for that, e.g., for a half hour of prep before and a half hour of notes clean up and follow-up action items after each call.

In terms of reframing, what about "this is an easy way to earn [$X]." "Listening in on this conference call is a nice way to get paid for folding my laundry." "This is a small piece to pay for being able to list myself as still employed."

I would also try to transfer all angst into energy you can use for finding new work and freelance clients. Fire this job ASAP.
posted by salvia at 8:39 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

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