This week, we’re tackling three questions about getting what you need. Help us decide what to write about next week:
My boss went on PTO without telling me — I found out from her vacation responder! — and I’ve run out of work. I’m paid hourly as a contractor and need the cash. What’s my next move?
Andy: It’s frustrating when you need the work and the person you’d ask for more isn’t there. It can feel very distressing very quickly. I start to think, Wait, will this job even exist much longer? Does it even really exist right now? Steer clear of that pit!
Emma: Instead, bucket this into “very annoying.” I think you have a couple of options outside of simply not working and still billing for the time. One is emailing around to other teams and offering to help them out. Does your boss’s vacation responder list a “contact XYZ person in my absence”? If yes, start there.
You can also invent work for yourself: organizing files, drafting new email macros, documenting processes, etc. One of my go-to’s is writing “onboarding guides” for the next contractor who will have my role. What have you learned that will help someone brand new get up to speed?
Andy: Also, keep in mind that if your contract includes work like “be on call and answer any new tickets” and you’re there, checking the tickets — you can bill for that, even if no tickets show up. That’s not the same as no work. You’re still there, doing your part.
I work in a warehouse and typically move heavy pallets. I’m now 30 weeks pregnant and have gotten approval from HR to adjust my workload to only lift 25 pounds and to not work overtime. My boss still schedules me for overtime plus assigns tasks with heavy lifting. I don’t want to quit, but I do want to stay safe. What do I do?
Andy: I know it feels like you have to just suck it up when you’re choosing between your personal safety and keeping your job (which is also paramount to your personal safety). That’s not true. You are legally protected. They cannot disregard your doctor’s note, and they cannot fire you for having those limitations. Anything less than accommodating your note is illegal and dangerous to you and your pregnancy. I can tell from your question that you’re well aware of your rights. The next bit of work is pretty bullshit, but it’s also necessary: You must be your own advocate here.
Emma: Let the knowledge that you are 100% in the right fill you with strident confidence. The next time you get your schedule, approach your boss with an air of complete bewilderment: “How bizarre, it looks like there was a mistake. I’m assigned duties outside of what I’m cleared for in my third trimester.”
If your boss is equally bewildered, there may have been a breakdown of communication between HR and your manager. That’s a frustrating but easy enough fix — everyone just needs to get up to speed on the situation. If you find out your boss is choosing to explicitly disregard instructions from HR, you get to throw an absolute stink. And you also get reinforcements! This is HR’s job. Document the conversation you have with your boss, print out the schedules you’re being assigned, and go straight to your HR business partner.
I’m very sorry this is one more thing you’re having to manage. I hope it’s resolved quickly.
Every day, my boss asks me how long I’ll take for lunch: “Will you be 30 minutes or an hour?” I’m allowed to take an hour, but the question makes me feel like I should say 30 minutes. I have a co-worker who always takes the full hour. How can I be as bold as her?
Andy: I think you know the answer to this on the purely practical level. You just say, “An hour.” Asked and answered!
Emma: I get it. I also often ease into my own burgeoning boldnesses. One persona I like to adopt to help navigate these kinds of micromanage-y interactions is what I call “breezy obliviousness.” How long will I be? “Oooo who knows? It depends on how good the lunch is!” And then I offer a friendly laugh as I scoot out of the office for the full bold hour. Your boss will get the hint.
Andy: I’m guessing the other part of your question is, How do I take an hour-long lunch and feel OK about myself, my job, and the way my boss sees me? I am typically not able to avoid feeling some discomfort. When I’m not people-pleasing, it turns out people aren’t always pleased. I have to accommodate that.
One method that works for me is reminding myself that when I said, “30 minutes,” it’s not like everyone was pleased then either — it was just me who was displeased! I like to make a list of reasons why I want the full hour: I feel more rested after. I’m allowed to have it. I’m not paid more if I come back sooner. I can go on a walk and get some activity in. I can go eat my lunch in the park instead of at my desk. I can pick up sushi from the stand with the longer line. I can swing by the market and grab supplies for dinner, which means I’ll get 30 minutes more with my family tonight. The amount other people take for lunch doesn’t matter; it’s my lunch. Whatever my reasons are, they’re valid and important.
Emma: If you’re up for it, I think a frank and curious conversation in your next 1-on-1 could help nip this in the bud. “Can I ask why you like to know how long my lunch breaks are going to be?” I wouldn’t be surprised if your boss is completely unaware of how persistent their questioning is, or how pressured you feel by it. It’s one of the weird parts of being a manager — the power dynamic takes their innocuous question and makes it feel like a trick.
Andy: Good luck! Let us know how it goes.