It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. I’m stuck in a job I can’t quit
A few months ago, my wife and I moved long distances so I could take a management job with a pay bump and better annual raises. The company also paid for the relocation. It seemed like a total home run, even if it meant moving very far away from any of our families.
I had been in a similar job in my industry where I was wildly successful, and respected by my management team, to the point where one pushed pretty hard for me for the job I have now. I was doing so well, my company was stunned that I left, but it came down to money.
The new job has been a disaster and is a bad fit. My managers have pointed out several faults they have with me. Among these: I’m not “vocal” enough, I’m not a “loud presence in the room,” and they like to point out my predecessor “made sure everyone in the room knew he was there.” They have also told me I’m not “assertive” in the way they need me to be.
I have never been a vocal person, a loud presence, or an assertive person. If anyone who knew me asked to describe me, those kind of words would be the absolute last they would use to describe me. I tend to keep to myself as much as possible. I’ve always been that way but it’s not been an issue for any other employer before now. As a painfully shy person who could be considered socially anxious, I am never going to be those things above. My current employer obviously wants someone with a different personality than I have.
It’s become clear my company’s priorities do not align with my strengths the way they did at my last company. More importantly, my bosses have a different vision for what someone in my position looks like, and it’s not someone put together like me. In hindsight, my last job now feels like a senior-level individual contributor role instead of a management role, even though I was part of the management team.
Quitting is not an option because I’d have to pay back what they gave us to relocate, plus steep penalties for breaking the two-year contract I signed. If they fire me, I shouldn’t owe anything but I’m essentially trapped in a job that’s a very bad fit. Because of our rental lease, which my income mostly supports, I need to gut it out here for at least a year. Any advice?
If they’re as unhappy as it sounds like they are, they might be open to a negotiated departure where you both agree it’s the wrong fit and they let you out of the contract and the relocation repayment. It’s worth a conversation where you say something like, “I’m increasingly realizing that you want someone for this role whose strengths are XYZ — which are not mine. I think there may be a fundamental mismatch between what you need and what I’m good at. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to simply move on, given the contract penalties and relocation repayment that would trigger, but if you’d consider waiving those, it could open up some easier options for both of us.”
2. I can see someone having sex from my office window
What’s the best response to a couple having sex very visibly from your office window? This has happened twice now.
I work downtown and my office building faces an apartment building that has floor to ceiling windows in some apartments, including the bedroom. Most apartments have the bedroom blinds closed, but not this one!
I do have blinds, but closing them makes my office feel immediately claustrophobic, so I want to leave them open as much as possible. However, that window is very visible to anyone entering my office, and now I’m grappling with the very real possibility that someone will come in and see this couple having sex behind me.
Am I doomed to claustrophobia? Should I put a large sign up in the window asking them to close the blinds? Mime the inconvenience until they notice?
Also: how do I respond to someone if they’re in my office and do see the couple having sex because I hadn’t noticed before? Thankfully I’m not client-facing, but that’s still not a conversation I want to have with my boss!
Oh my. Is there a middle ground where partly closing the blinds could block the view a bit but without making your office feel so closed off?
Otherwise, you’re stuck choosing between closing the blinds completely or risking some truly distracting stuff behind you when people come in.
Readers, any better thoughts?
3. Should I give unsolicited advice to a job-hopping client?
I am happily self-employed in business services practice. My question for you is about a tax client who, in the decade I’ve prepared her taxes, has had W2s from multiple companies (it’s six or seven over this time), and also had self-employment income from various contracting engagements.
Jane is well-educated and has many accomplishments. However, the constant job movement is, in my eyes, due to some difficult personal qualities. She dominates conversations of every type. Whether in-person or via teleconference, it’s almost impossible to break in and say anything. This even happens when I am responding to direct questions from her. Interruptions are nearly constant. She refers to her specialty (logistics, software support for logistics, documentation for logistical processes) constantly, and often out of context. References to interactions at the C-suite level are not uncommon. Several years ago she was hired by a distinguished local financial institution. When we first discussed this new job, she announced that she’d settled for the position after several months of unemployment and was “managing up” to assist her supervisor. That one lasted about 18 months, just like most of the others.
It must be infuriating for any manager to have such a person on their team. I know that these were qualities that I coached people out of when I managed a staff of my own. My question for you is – should I say anything to the client about this? To be clear, she has not sought my guidance. I see her only during tax season, and briefly. None of this really impacts me. But… it seems to an ongoing problem, with little self-reflection available to address it.
Absolutely not. You don’t have the sort of relationship where the feedback would be appropriate; it would be pretty bizarre for the person she’s hired to prepare her taxes to give that sort of feedback unsolicited. (You also don’t know if she even considers the job hopping a problem!) It would be as a serious overstep.
4. How to turn down fans who want to connect one-on-one
I work on a mental health podcast that’s recently gotten pretty popular. With the increased attention, we also have a lot of listeners private messaging to us for advice and mentorship (we aren’t therapists and that’s not the focus of the podcast, so those regulations don’t enter into the equation). At first, we were so excited about reaching so many people that we happily jumped on calls/made friends/connected with people. That’s no longer feasible with the volume of requests that we get — our host would literally spend every waking hour having one-on-one conversations with fans.
We’re nowhere near famous and I hate the idea that we have to distance ourselves from everyone who makes us successful. We specifically got into this to help people! Do you have a script for turning people down when they reach out? What do you do personally in this situation as someone whose blog has really exploded? Also, we do have multiple lists of resources that we can pass along but many of our listeners have no access to real mental health care because of cost, availability of providers, and long waiting lists (which is infuriating and only makes this harder).
I went through a period where I tried to respond to every single person who wrote me (at least privately) and it was overwhelming. To keep doing it, I would have had to give up most of my leisure time and would still have “go answer more email” constantly hanging over me. So I quickly came to terms with the fact that it wasn’t realistic — and that’s completely okay! When you create something, it’s amazing to know that it resonates with people so much that they want to connect with you in a more personal way … but you’ve got to get comfortable setting boundaries so that you can continue to make the thing that caught their attention in the first place, because (at least after a certain point) you cannot do both.
Don’t look at this as distancing yourself from the people who made you successful; it’s about being clear on what you are equipped to offer (podcasts that delve into mental health that serve a large audience) and what you aren’t (phone calls and other private communication that has an audience of one). That boundary is necessary to maintain your primary product (the podcast), because otherwise you will quickly burn out and then not help anyone at all.
What that means in practice: you need some warm, friendly form letters to field all the requests you’re getting. Sample language: “It means a ton to us that you liked our work enough to reach out. We’ve been overwhelmed by the volume of messages we receive and unfortunately that volume means we can’t respond personally to each one, as much as we would like to.” People will generally get it if you spell it out.
5. How long should I keep old-work-related papers?
I’m working on scanning and shredding my paper clutter, and I have many, many copies of old performance evaluations, as well as other things like letters confirming job offers, etc. Is there any reason to keep any of this? Tax records have published data for how long you should keep documentation, but how about work-related things? I feel like I need “permission” to just shred some of this stuff, like the performance evaluation from my first job in the early 1990s (eeeeeek)!
There are no real guidelines on this, but I’d say keep stuff for at least the last 10 years (but it doesn’t have to be paper copies; it’s fine to scan and store them electronically). You never know when you might have trouble confirming employment (if a place shuts down, for example) and could use an offer letter, etc. to help do it. You’re highly unlikely to need really old performance evaluations, although as a completist I might be tempted to scan those too in case they’re amusing to look back on 20 years from now (but to clear, this would be for nostalgic/entertainment value and not “what if would ever help to show I excelled at my job in 1992” … and if you do not consider bureaucratic detritus in any way amusing, you can skip it).