The Vine: April 14, 2010
Sars, knower of things,
This is a workplace sort of thing, and it's a wee bit tangle-y.
About eight months ago, there was a managerial shake-up at my store (which is a small cog in a big machine, if you get what I'm saying), which resulted in my store manager being fired, everyone except three of us (myself, the assistant manager, and a part-time manager) quitting, and a new store manager being hired. After about two weeks, the part-time manager quit, which resulted in my being promoted to her position.
By most accounts, I've been doing a bang-up job; all of our numbers are up across the board, things are getting done and being organized, I was being talked up all over the place — by both my new manager and the assistant manager. I don't bitch about the things I'm asked to do, even when I'd like to, I come in extra when they need a spare set of hands or someone calls off sick, I know the merchandise and the customers, and all of the employees seem to like me.
Until about a month and a half ago, that is. Around then, something — and I have no idea what — changed. My manager and I started butting heads over small things, which I always yield on once she makes what she wants clear.
I wasn't told that I would no longer be making up the schedule — it was merely done, without my knowledge, and wrong, and at least a month ahead of time so that no one can request time off unless they've asked for it far in advance. Nothing I do is right anymore — if I put out new stock (where it's supposed to go, according to the floorplan), I'll come in the next day and it's moved somewhere else; there are detailed notes telling me to do things that 1. I already know to do and 2. know how to do, since I've been doing this job for seven months.
About a month before things turned…strange, we had another change in staff, on a smaller scale, where my manager hired two people to replace two OTHER people she'd hired who hadn't worked out. One of the new people that was hired has become a friend — we share a sense of humor, as well as several interests, and she knows what she's doing at work. She was quickly promoted to the same level I'm at, which is good — we needed another manager, and she's good at what we do.
She has also become my manager's new confidante, which is a role she doesn't particularly want. She hears, from what she's told me, all sorts of things that managers shouldn't share with other people at work. My manager evidently asks about what I do and say frequently, criticizes what I do, complains about what I as well as the assistant manager do and don't do. She also plans to get rid of all of the part-time workers we have now for no reason other than she's decided they just won't suit.
There's been talk of firing me (which is the first I've heard that I've been doing anything wrong at all), as well as cutting my hours (which, from the looks of the schedule, will happen next week) because my sales have been low. We don't work on commission, and…they haven't been low at all, actually.
Most of the problem here is hearsay, and I know I should talk to my manager about it to clear the air. But I don't want to get the other girl in trouble, and I also don't know that any good will come of it. One of the stores next door to us (which caters to a similar demographic) has been hiring for a full-time assistant manager — my manager went there to ask them if anyone from our store had applied there, and then asked if they could forward any applications they rejected to her.
Her behavior, to me, smacks of paranoia — like she's worried I'll steal her job. I know for a fact that she takes credit for many of the things I do, and has been saying nasty things about me to the other employees. It feels like I'm trapped — I need the money, and I like my job except for this one thing. But I can't go to work now without feeling like everything I do is under a magnifying lens, and that no matter what I do, I'm going to get in trouble for it.
I've enrolled in school (which already feels like giving up — I'd wanted to transfer stores and maybe get a promotion at some point), so I don't know that there's any point in doing anything but muddling through until I'm done with school.
The question is this: Should I just keep my head down, do my work, and keep chanting "just a few more months"? Should I say something to my manager about what I have heard/am feeling? Or find another job and get the heck out of Dodge?
The Shopgirl with the Brown Hair
I agree with you that this is probably a competition issue with your manager. I also agree that there isn't a lot you can do about it. I mean, there is, but the effort-to-benefit ratio is not good.
You can address the issue of your hours without compromising your source close to the manager, though, and you should. Ask for 10 minutes in private with the manager; before you do this, arm yourself with proof that your numbers have not fallen off. Then ask the manager, earnestly and with painstaking politeness, why she's cut your hours; you need the money, and you've done your job to the best of your ability, as [x numbers] show, but if there are areas in which you need improvement, you really hope she'll let you know how you can get there so that you can resume your usual schedule. Take out a piece of paper and a pen, ask what you can do better, and just sit there.
It can work, that strategy. Sometimes, a superior just hates your face for no good reason, and a focused but pleasant convo about your duties and performance can make a superior like that realize that she needs to put her personal feelings or threatened issues aside.
Can. Probably won't. What probably will happen instead: she'll avoid eye contact; make a not-credible excuse about trying something new with the hours blocks blah blah "just hang in there"; and seize on the first interruption, no matter how minor, to end the meeting.
She doesn't like you, which is okay; she's letting that crimp your income, which isn't. Call corporate and get a transfer; find another, similar job in the sector; go next door and apply for that job, even if you don't want it, just to twit her. Yes, we all have to suck it up when it comes to personality conflicts, but she's an insecure liar who's cutting your hours, so what are you sucking it up for, is the thing.
See if you can't gently shame her into backing off for a bit. If that doesn't work, leave. The issue is the income; if she's affecting yours, you'll have to move on.
Hi Sarah —
I need some advice on how to think about a problem, I think. My husband has been accepted into the Foreign Service and is waiting for a job offer from the State Department. I have been cautiously supportive of this process; in fact, I applied as well last summer at the same time he did, but did not make it through one of the earlier stages of the process. The Foreign Service hiring process is notoriously long and difficult, and I suppose at some level during the whole thing I took a "cross that bridge when you get there" attitude toward how I felt about being a Foreign Service officer's spouse (a "trailing spouse" in FSO lingo. GAG).
So, the bridge is waiting to be crossed, now that he could get an offer to go Washington to begin training for his first post really at any time. And I have no idea how I feel about it. Sometimes it seems exciting: travel! New, exotic places! Built-in community around the various embassies and consulates! Sometimes it seems super-scary: non-US living conditions! Not being able to speak the language! Having to move every 2-3 years! Sometimes I think it's a great life to give our children (who are 3 and 1), and sometimes I think they will hate us for not letting them be more rooted.
Majorly, there is also the fact that most trailing spouses (…barf) aren't employed, or very employable. The stats are that only something like 30% of Foreign Service spouses who want to be employed actually are. I've looked into it, and the choices generally aren't good. Most jobs available in the consulates are administrative in nature — filing and that sort of thing. And working outside the consulate requires navigating that country's work rules, some of which are prohibitive.
I'm a lawyer, and proud of what I've accomplished in my field, and would never be thinking of giving it up now if it weren't for this. It's not a particularly portable career. There are some few opportunities for professionals, mostly at NGOs and that sort of thing, within the diplomatic community, but they are few and far between and hotly contested. Should we do this, I will certainly try for something like that, but the odds are very much not in my favor, so I feel I need to make my peace with not being employed before we go, in order to go with my whole heart behind my husband.
Only I can't seem to do that. I've never wanted to stay home with my kids; as wonderful as they are, I need more mental challenge in my life than looking after toddlers can bring (please, commenters, do not take that as any kind of slam against at-home parents. I personally am just not built for it). And I look at the Foreign Service life without a job of my own and I see loneliness and isolation.
A lot of current FSOs that my husband corresponds with have some variation of, "Can you find a hobby?" as the answer for the question of how a spouse should occupy him- or herself. I have hobbies, but I don't feel like that would sufficiently contribute to the household. I would feel like a lazy dilettante who is mostly doing those things to stay occupied. I'm worried about being isolated and I worry about feeling trapped. And I worry about losing the career I've worked so hard to build; it isn't easy to re-enter the law world after time away, assuming my husband doesn't want to make a lifetime career of this.
There are a few other factors too, like the fact that my husband hates where we currently live (I am willing to move domestically), he knows I've always regretted not traveling more and that I wish I had a more adventurous spirit, and since we've been a couple, where we live has been driven entirely by his career, that he has recently left (involuntarily). I moved with him with full buy-in on all the moves; it's not like I had no say in the matter. But at a certain point, it starts to feel like my life doesn't matter. I'm feeling absolutely no self-determination, no ability to articulate what I want and be able to make it happen.
I'm also pretty happy where we are living now; after 3 years here, I've finally started to develop the community that I've been working so hard to build. I have a circle of friends, a church community in which I am active, my daughter has a preschool that we like, etc.
Finally, the Foreign Service has been my husband's dream since college. I didn't know that until recently, but apparently he's always wanted to do this. If I put my foot down and said, "I'm not going," he wouldn't go either. I just don't know if I can do that to him, though.
We've talked about it to death (I've made all these points to him previously), and now he's starting to make "jokes" like, when I tell him I love him, he'll say, "Love me enough to quit your career and come be a stay-at-home mom to the kids in Lithuania?" He laughs like it's truly a joke (and it wouldn't be out of character for him to mean it genuinely as a joke), but I'm wondering if it's more a reflection of how he really feels. And I don't know how to respond, other than to tell him that I don't think it's funny.
So, at long last, my question to you is, how can I change my thinking about this in order to make a decision I can live with? How can I make myself okay with what he's asking of me? How can I reclaim a sense of agency for myself, even or especially if we do this? I guess I don't even know what the question is, but I need some fresh eyes on the problem (my therapist is less helpful in this than I thought she'd be). Thanks for your time; love your work.
Too Troubled to Come Up with a Clever Nom de Vine
"Finally, the Foreign Service has been my husband's dream since college. I didn't know that until recently, but apparently he's always wanted to do this."
I'm going to have to call bullshit on this. I'm willing to bet he made that revelation during a discussion or argument about the decision, in order to guilt you into backing down. I'm not saying he hasn't wanted to do it for a long time, and I'm not saying he deployed "but it's my dreeeeeam!" on purpose.
But he hasn't acted on that dream until now, and now, he has a family, and that changes the landscape for him whether he likes it or not, because the family has dreams too. Moving the kids around at their current ages isn't really a big deal (well, logistically it is, but less so emotionally), but good luck selling them on it in ten years.
Becoming a parent does not mean giving up on your dreams or ambitions, of course. That breed of martyrdom is unnecessary, and does not actually help children from what I've seen. But when you have kids, you make some choices, not just about them but about yourself, your lifestyle, your career. You're not quite as free to move about or change things up as you once were. I'm not advocating that parents put one zombie foot in front of the other in pursuit of picket-fence stability until everyone's 18, obviously, but the time to pursue a dream job that entails frequent travel and possible relocation to not-so-safe places is perhaps before you have two toddlers…who will be 90% of your spouse's social life, a state of affairs your spouse is on record as not caring for.
The thing is, your husband knows all that. He knows what you want, and he knows it's not listening to language tapes and trying to fill your days with crafts. Nothing against crafts, but it's different when you functionally have no choice. But he wants to go, and he doesn't want it to be true that someone is going to have to be unhappy in order for that to happen. He makes jokes so that he can head you off from saying, "I want this for you, but I really don't want any of what it involves for me," because if everyone's chuckling ruefully, he doesn't have to be the bad guy for going after what he wants.
That doesn't make him a bad guy, but he needs to get real about what it means for you. It sounds like you've resigned yourself to going, which is perfectly valid, but I don't think blowing up on him about it, demanding that he accept your emotional reality, is the worst thing in the world. You've had reasoned, I-statements discussions about it, you've expressed your support — but you don't want to go and you already feel resentment building, and you need to get that out, as-is, now, and deal with it. Next time he makes a crack about it, crack back. "No, I'm not sure I do love you enough. …Yeah, not laughing now, are you. Because having to choose between your happiness and my own ISN'T FUNNY. I love you, but I resent it, especially because your happiness is probably going to win — AGAIN! I've moved for you before — acknowledge me in a serious way, THIS IS MY LIFE TOO!" Door slam!
No, it doesn't solve anything, but if he thinks those jokes will go over any better if he's assigned to Islamabad, he's high. He can want what he wants, but that has its price and it's you who will pay much of it, and you can do that for him, but he has to stop pretending it isn't so.
Once the dust settles on that, have a more reasoned talk about what's going to happen if you're really, genuinely miserable overseas. Talk about exit strategies, end dates. Make it clear that you will make your best go of it for a while, without guilt or emotional blackmail for a few years, but if you can't find work and can't make friends, the two of you will have to reassess as a family. Draw up a contract if you have to: "We will reconvene on this matter in 18 months, and if I have begun putting ouzo in my morning coffee, you will quit." I think the idea that this is The Rest Of Your Life is making you claustrophobic, understandably, and having an escape hatch on paper might really help you both.
I've recommended before that people with social anxiety narrate social situations to themselves in the manner of a nature show, to relieve pressure and give the difficulty a narrative structure. You might try a variation on that: start a journal or a blog, a memoir of your first year or two years. Call it "Adventures of a Trailing Spouse," and then have some visual pun on "trail" and fart fumes or something. Make it a story for the ages; count on a grand unifying theory.
And keep an eye on the difference between "This will be GREAT! [clenched teeth]" and "This will be hard, but I will be great in there somehow." Give yourself permission not to love it, or to pretend you do. Realize that, some days, you will think you made a huge mistake, and other days, you will run into the arms of it laughing.
Get angry. Then get a plan. You can do this.
So, I have a roommate and a cat problem. I moved in with my roomie knowing she had two cats. I don't love cats, but I grew up with them so I'm used to them, their habits, and their smells. We made it very clear that they were her cats. She would buy food, clean the cat box, all of it. I'd help out when she's gone or busy, but I was under the impression that wouldn't happen very often.
As it turns out, I despise her cats. My cats growing up had always been really well trained, so I didn't worry about them being where they shouldn't too often. They were also declawed, which these cats aren't, so I wasn't prepared for the damage they would wreak on everything. But I'm sucking it up, because I agreed to live here and knew there were cats.
The real problem is that my roommate isn't taking care of them. She's off at her boyfriend's every other week, so I am left taking care of them half the time. And when she is home? She doesn't clean the cat box more than once a week. With two cats. They pee and poop everywhere and I spend more time than I ever wanted scrubbing the carpets.
Last weekend was the last straw. My mom was in town, we'd rented a chick flick and planned to cook dinner and have a mom/daughter night. We had to flee because the smell was so bad. I cleaned it and aired out the apartment while we went out for dinner, but I've had enough. She had various health issues and keeps saying she doesn't feel well enough to do it. I don't want to be grinchy but there is a reason I don't own animals of my own. I don't like caring for them and I know I wouldn't be responsible enough to do it.
Is it fair of me to suggest she give them to her parents until she's able to care for them? Or, alternately, I'm willing to take care of them if she takes over more of the rent/bills. So I guess, how do I bring this up to her? And what are some reasonable options for me to give her?
Pissed About Piss
Document everything you do and have done for/about the cats. Document everything they do. Bring the documentation to your roommate and remind her that you agreed: these are her cats, and you will no longer deal with them except in an emergency. Extended visits to her boyfriend's do not qualify.
Furthermore, the cats are creating an unpleasant living environment for you. You're sorry she isn't well, but if she can't take care of the cats for that reason, she ought to consider rehoming them with her parents. Either way, you need to see a stench reduction in two weeks or you will arrange to live elsewhere.
If you want your roommate to deal with them, make her deal with them. Stop cleaning up after them. Bar them from your part of the living space; decline to clean up their messes. This will drive you crazy for several days, but right now, this is the message your roommate gets: "You have to take care of the cats yourself — except I already did it."
Let them do their business in her room; see if that doesn't focus her attention. If it doesn't, or if she responds to the filth by spending even more time at her boyfriend's house, move out, but if you don't want to care for cats that aren't yours, you have to stop teaching your roommate that you'll just do it anyway. Get some incense, lock your bedroom, and force the issue.
Tags: cats roommates the fam workplace