my boss wants to hire us out for our “unique talents and skills” that have nothing to do with our jobs — Ask a Manager

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. 

Remember the letter-writer whose boss wanted to hire them out for their “unique talents and skills” that had nothing to do with their jobs? Here’s the update.

I found using the suggested phrasing “I freelance in that field and it would be a conflict of interest” to be a helpful way to express my concerns politely. I think it helped my boss feel less like I was shutting them down personally and more making it about general business norms.

One of your suggestions, “I do that for fun and I’m not interested in doing it professionally,” helped me to see how crazy of an ask this was. I could see how someone might naively ask about making cupcakes for an event, or taking photos. None of the three of us asked about adding our skills to this business were asked to make our hobbies part of our job. Two of us were asked about adding our services that are related to our master’s degrees and one to a field of work that they left over a decade ago. Fields that have professional certifications and titles that are unrelated to the company.

The company was and is very successful. It provides a much needed service in my community. But as it grew with more employees and in servicing more clients, it started to become very disorganized. A few months after the infamous meeting, I was asked to start coming to in-person events. My boss knew my availability and that I was only working this job because I could work from home. These events took place during regular working hours for my full-time freelance jobs and my boss hoped I could take a day off my full-time job occasionally and come in. I was asked two days before Thanksgiving if I could work from home for a couple hours on Thanksgiving Day (I was hosting my family on Thanksgiving). We had some in-person trainings that were rescheduled multiple times with little notice because of family emergencies from other staff. One of those reschedules happened while I was on a family vacation, so my boss used my emergency contact to get ahold of me to see if the new training time would work. Another time, my boss asked to meet with me quickly on a weekend to drop off something, and then was two hours late.

I said no to all of these last-minute asks and reschedules that conflicted with my full-time job and I didn’t wait around when my boss was late. I couldn’t event attend some of the rescheduled meetings or trainings because I couldn’t find a sitter with two days notice. But this type of thing started happening several times a month and I started to resent it.

While I do feel my boss has their heart in the right place, the last-minute requests started to really add up. By late winter, I couldn’t discount it as being “new” to running a company anymore. They were showing me who they were and how disorganized they are. I kept hoping they’d get it together. That’s on me! So I put in my notice a few months ago. Even though I worked such few hours, I feel like I’ve gained so much time back.

In the original letter you made up a name for my boss, “Craig.” My boss is actually non-binary and fairly young. While I know this wasn’t the intent of your advice, I felt differently about the situation when I started to think about my boss being an older man named Craig making these same requests. (I am a cis queer woman in my forties.) I liked my boss personally, and it was clouding my professional judgement of them. I excused a lot of behavior I wouldn’t if my boss had been a different person. This has given me a lot of reflect on personally.

I’ve briefly spoken to my previous boss a few times since I left, and we seem to be on good terms. I wish them success in their company and growth in their professionalism. I’ll always root for them and their business goals. But I’m much happier not being behind the scenes anymore.

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