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The Vine: November 13, 2013

Submitted by on November 13, 2013 – 3:00 PM19 Comments


I'm a few months into a new job — same basic position (executive assistant) but new industry (financial) — and in need of perspective and advice from you and the TN hive-mind.

Laid off back in February and despite the economy, my age (this ain't my first rodeo) and other factors, was delighted to land a position with this company just a few weeks into my search, so I know…I am LUCKY. 

Except the first week at new place was nothing short of horrible — so horrible, in fact, that I resigned. My supervisor refused to accept said resignation, reiterated his support and regard for my work and urged me to hang on and things would get better. And they did, a bit. My boss (also new to the company) is great, but the culture/mindset is definitely a drag — there are only two speeds, Fast and Faster Still. Everything is A Priority and the rest of the group regularly puts in 12-hour days.

And I'm the exception. I was contracted to work a set of agreed-upon hours with overtime "as needed" so that's what I've been doing. When there is a fire to put out or something needs to be done that day, I'm here 'til it's done but most days, I'm able to stay on top of stuff and leave at a normal hour.

But I'm the only one leaving at a normal hour.

And now comments are being made (to me and about me) about how lucky I am to get to leave "early" and while my boss continues to be supportive and pleased with me and my work, I'm feeling increasingly uncomfortable. I start my day relatively early but the rest of group tends to roll in an hour (or sometimes two) after I've gotten here so I guess it does look as if I'm leaving early but I work 9 (or more) hours a day, again, just what I was contracted to do.

I hate to throw away a great boss (and a decent job) but I don't want to work with people who resent me for doing what I was hired to do.

If I Go There Will Be Trouble (If I Stay It Will Be…You Know)

Dear Trouble,

If you really can't cope with your colleagues talking shit about you, you should leave, but with very few exceptions, colleagues in every workplace talk shit, and with love, you need to get over it. You can't control what other people think, and your boss is more than content with your work, to the point where he refused to let you quit. I understand that the vibe is uncomfortable for you; as someone who was nicknamed "Part-Time Sarah" on one contract job, and not particularly gently, I really do get it, but the ones you can't win over with a snack run on your way in/out for the day are just determined to be unhappy score-keepers whatever way, and there's nothing you can do about that.

The next time someone snides that you're leaving early, just shrug, "Got here way early too. Anyone need a Lara Bar before I go?" The next time someone implies that you're not pulling your weight, pretend you have no idea what s/he could mean, and ask how you can address his/her concerns. (Note: The "let's go find [supervisor] right now so you can tattle" move sounds a lot more ninja than it is? But it's still pretty ninja. Use caution.)

And remember: it's a good job, that you do well, for which you are appreciated. That's rare, and the rest of it will probably settle down somewhat once you let it be known that you're fine with your work and don't owe anyone an explanation or apology. Which you don't, so don't give off the vibe that you do.

It sucks, but to a certain extent it's only going to suck as much as you let it. If you find yourself spinning about it, acknowledge to yourself that it sucks and force your mind onto something else.



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  • Elissa says:

    Nothing to add here except, ugh, been there, and it sucks. So I feel your pain! But a job is a job, and just remember that at least you're getting paid to put up with that B.S.

  • Chrissimas says:

    As someone who has uncharitable thoughts about other employees that don't seem to work as much from time to time (but would NEVER say ANYTHING to that person because I do not do passive aggressive), you also need to understand that this has very little to do with you and everything to do with them. I only have those thoughts when I'm feeling stressed and undervalued and they creep in behind my defenses and allow me to indulge in self-pity for a while. Then I get my head on straight and remind myself that I signed up for this and I don't actually know how much they work, what arrangements they have with our boss, and that I get paid more than they do, so it's expected.

    It sounds like you have a manager that has your back and a job you like that allows you to have a personal life and unless you REALLY can't handle that, I wouldn't give it up for just about anything, let alone this. You'll almost never find a place of employment where there isn't someone making passive aggressive comments about something, so just remember that the comments have very little to do with you and try and find a way to let them roll off your back. To go along with what Sars said, just don't be apologetic that you're leaving every day (when you are supposed to). Say goodbye and go like it's no big deal (because it's not).

    Finally, there's no way this is teasing is it? We have a new employee that leaves most days at 3pm, and another employee always (gently) teases her saying that he wishes he could leave then, but we all know she gets in at 6:30AM or earlier and the jokes are more self-deprecating in that we are actually in awe of her for getting in that early. And it's very obvious in our case that we're being silly, but maybe your coworkers are bad at jokes?

  • Jane says:

    Are you the only non-exempt employee? It's possible others don't get how much it costs the company to keep you longer, if so.

  • Cora says:

    Man, do I feel you. I've been in a job I HAAAAAAAAAAAATE for two years now (two words: health insurance). If you're like me, then you're trying to brave through it constantly, admonishing yourself to keep a stiff upper lip and find the positives and who gives a shit what others think and I can learn from anything, and oh my God does it wear. You know what helps, honestly? Giving yourself a break once in a while and letting it get to you, when you really really really have to; go home and cry and feel sorry for yourself for a little while. Deploy with utmost care, because this has to be the exception, not the norm. For real, though; if I can take a few hours every four months or so to burrow under the covers and just cry and cry and cry, then I finally get to that point where I'm sick of crying and what's the alternative? "Okay. FUCK! Fine." It gets you to a mindspace where it's easier to focus on something else, because by then you really want to.

  • Maria says:

    I suppose you could always start looking for a new job just to see if there is something else that might be more to your liking…but other than the coworkers, it sounds okay.

    I think you should stop giving them the power to upset you. They're whiny little brats? Well, they can be if they want to be. Sometimes you just have to write off people as, "John's John". Let them be themselves.

    I hope the culture there will shift as people change jobs. Could happen. In the meantime, just keep being awesome, and don't let this eat at you.

  • attica says:

    I nearly never work overtime, and a lot of my colleagues do. Not because I'm special, but because they have for-shit work habits. They roll in late, they dawdle over the water-cooler, spend all day on the intertubz, and then wonder why they're still here at midnight. Which is not to say I'm a grind (hi, strangers in the Nation!), but I'm efficient, and since I don't get paid overtime, I'm disinclined to do it.

    Most of my colleagues are cool, but I often have to hear 'ohhhh, I was here alllll weeeeekend!' As suggested upthread, this has way more to do with them than me, so I avoid the trap of feeling sorry for them or feeling guilty my ownself. And if they get more snidely, I give them a grin and a crack about my mad time-management skillz and let that be that.

    I've worked for bosses who equated long hours with effort; that's just nuts. It seems like your boss isn't that guy (I do think it's a guy thing a lot of the time), so be grateful and be gone on time.

  • Jen S. 2.0 says:

    Agree with others; shrug and let it go. Repeat as needed. They don't know your full story, don't need to know your full story, and have no business commenting about it. If your boss is cool with your schedule, the buck stops there.

    I'm an arrive later / leave later girl. If I saw someone I knew leaving at an early-to-me hour, I might say "Heading out?" or "Done for the day?" as a salutation. If they said, "Yep; I got an early start today," I'd say "Have a nice evening," and not give it another thought.

    Also, be aware that "comments" are not the same as "negative comments." A lot — a lot! — of people say dumb things just to have something to say (as in my "heading out?" example above). Not only that, but most likely people are not thinking about you nearly as hard as you think they are. An "Mmmm" from you is all that's required in response to these dumb comments.

  • MizShrew says:

    I'm with Jen S. 2.0 here — I get in later and leave later than most in my office. Over time, people have figured it out — and my boss was always cool with the arrangement.

    Eventually people will realize that you're doing great work efficiently and that the boss likes said work. There will always be some dillhole who doesn't get it, but that will be true anywhere.

    Seems to me a big part of the issue is that so many of them are working 12-hour days — this speaks to either severe understaffing or poor project management up the chain. It's not your gig to address that, of course, but it may help to understand that many of these folks are probably pretty frustrated with that situation. Then they see someone who isn't stuck like they are and they resent it. This makes Sars advice even more spot on — bring in some treats, be kind to people, and then go home without guilt.

  • Sue says:

    I work in a similar environment – architecture, but trust me, the hours are similar. And I'm not on the design side (marketing), so I have more regular hours. The designers…..yeah, not so much. All-nighters are commonplace.

    If the requirement is that you're there with the team until their deadline's met, that's one thing. It doesn't sound like that's the case. And honestly, I don't know of many admin professionals who stick around for other people's deadlines. You're doing your job; focus on that and not on the comments.

    It's hard, I know, and you're learning a new set of rules and how they interact with you. It may all be a brief period until they're comfortable with you and they understand you've gotten your work done within your 9 hours. You could ask about your predecessor – did s/he stay late, etc? If it's stemming from that, were there things that s/he did for the team that you're not? Again, doesn't sound like it to me.

    Best of Luck

  • M says:

    If you're unhappy, polishing your resume and putting feelers out for another job, while staying in this one, sounds like the best thing to do. While every workplace will have something that's sub-optimal, there may a be a better place for you.

    I say this because just staying in the job and gritting your teeth will likely wear you down over time. And you don't get points for suffering. There are no prizes for endlessly putting up with morons.

    It would be passive-aggressive to greet the people who come in later with, "you're finally here", "it must be nice to miss rush hour commuting" and "The sunrise was soooo beautiful this morning, shame you missed it" so best to avoid it probably. Inner monologues of all the things we shouldn't say can be good for mental health, though, in my experience.

  • heatherkay says:

    Working with other people sometimes requires kabuki-esque rituals. It's stupid, and it's not fair, but that's part of living in society. People are always going to be suspicious that folks working different schedules or working at home are Getting Away With Something. This is especially true when you're the new employee.

    Make sure that people know that you are working for hours before they get there. Do you need to talk to someone about something when they get in? Don't wait for them to show up, then go ask them — send them an email with a 7:00 am timestamp. Make sure you are in the middle of something complicated when they start walking through the door. Make sure your car is parked in the first spot by the door, and the coffee pot is half empty. Have the stack of reports for them to sign already stacked on their desk when they get there. Volunteer to meet the copier repair guy because you're always the first person there, anyway. Eventually, combined with your high productivity, your office identity will be the Woman Who Comes in Early rather than the Woman Who Leaves Early. Once you get the benefit of the doubt, you can ease up a little on the theater.

  • Helen says:

    If it's going to help you feel more secure about your position, maybe have a chat with your boss, and get them to confirm that they are happy with your work and your hours. Knowing that your boss has your back will help you shrug off the others' remarks.

  • JB says:

    I would agree, checking with your boss to make sure that they are happy with the work you are doing and the hours you are working. I have had the boss who only judged people by how early they arrived (and yet, despite being the first one in, she was quick to leave early or take a leisurely lunch….) If you are getting complaints from superiors, by all means ask if they want you to adjust your schedule, but I suspect it's nothing more than coworkers burnt out on 12-hour days with a touch of envy that you get a better work-life balance than they do. Also, there can definitely be some tension and blurred lines about responsibility levels between contract and exempt employees. I have definitely experienced that as a contract employee taking on an interim manager role, that different coworkers and superiors have wildly different concepts of what responsibilities I can and cannot take on.

  • Margaret says:

    This is also partially the industry; worked in financial firms almost all of my career and late hours come with it, as does the endless competitive complaints about said hours. Having said that, very few admins I have known in the industry work the same hours. Generally, they do so on exception and not as the norm. I hope that background helps with knowing if this is a "problem" or just background noise!

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    A – What you're describing is typical of the finance world. My sister has worked in that field for years. She started as an assistant and ended up an analyst, and what you're describing is very typical re: crazy hours, "need it yesterday", etc.

    B – Given that you get in 2 hours earlier than everyone else, you're not "leaving early" at all. You can (gently) remind them of that:

    Them: "Wow, leaving early again?"

    You: "Funny! No, I'm here every day at __ AM; believe me, it's not leaving early. Thank goodness for coffee, right? See you tomorrow!"

    (I have colleagues who would rip the head off of anyone who suggested they were leaving early.)

    C – I put up with a LOT of BS when I first started my current job. At first I took it personally, and then I realized that my coworkers needed to see that I wasn't interested in undermining them or taking advantage, etc. Once they saw that, and I made it plain that I was interested in being part of the team, the dynamic changed drastically.

    I have definitely been in your shoes (I was deeply relieved just to be employed when I first got this job). And we also have a lot of "I need you to be in ten places right now" that drives me insane. But there are good things about it too.

    I hope things go better for you. It ain't easy for us assistants … and some day I'll write a book about it (probably from jail, while waiting for my homicide trial). :)

  • RJ says:

    Like Jen S., my schedule is on the later arrival/later departure end of the spectrum. And her post made me realize that I may be perceived as someone who comments on people leaving "early." It's truly in that stupid conversational way that Jen mentions. But I've been known to say "Must be nice" when someone leaves for the day at 3:30. I usually follow up with something about how nice it was that my head was still on the pillow at 7:30 that morning. And when people comment to me about how nice it must be to roll into the office at 9 or 9:30 in the morning, I just grin and say, "It is!" But I think this discussion will help me avoid that conversational gambit in the future if it could be perceived so negatively.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    Something along the lines of "Hey, if you can get them to authorize a bunch of time-and-a-half for me, GREAT!" might also be a way of reminding the salaried that hourly workers have a different set of rules, which they tend to forget after a while.

  • ferretrick says:

    I've got to disagree about the bring in treats advice some people are giving-that can backfire and make you look weak, like you are trying to win people over.

    A couple of other thoughts:

    You say you were "contracted" to work a certain number of hours…does that mean you are working through an agency? THat's very expensive for the company and that might be why they don't want you working overtime. Work on getting hired as a permanent employee if that's the case, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that then you'll be the same as everybody else and free to work the hours you want.

    BELIEVE ME, I understand where you are coming from. I have had to put up with lots of nasty, passive aggressive (and sometimes insanely directly aggressive) behavior from coworkers. Among other very annoying things, I remember one who elected herself Queen Bee Hall Monitor (absolutely not her job) and kept track of everyone's time in and out, vacations, sick days, etc.

    That said-you've got to learn to let some things role off your back.
    If the worst you can complain about is the comments about you "leaving early" that's not so bad.

    Reading between the lines, it sounds like you were at your position before this one a long time. You probably built up a lot of seniority and power there, to the point where no one monitored you or questioned what you did or didn't do-the quality of your work and the length of time you had been there spoke for itself. Consider how that might be playing into making you a little oversensitive now that you are the new kid on the block and people ARE scrutinizing your every move. Not that that isn't bullshit, it is…but in the grand scheme of office bullshit, it's relatively minor. You'll find that if the quality of your work is good, relatively quickly (six months to a year) people will figure out you do your share and all but the most determined scorekeepers will shut their traps. And for those few, every office has at least one and there is nothing you can do about it, but they are usually easily ignored. Generally, everyone is on to their games and no longer pays attention.

  • Kristin says:

    I hope things are getting better for you – I think the only person whose opinion you should be concerned with (besides your own) is that of your direct boss, who seems to support you and have a high regard for your professional skills. If that person feels you need to be working more hours, then you should address that with them. Otherwise, let 'em talk, because they will anyway, and who cares? I would strongly advise against putting in hours for which you're not getting paid – a lot of companies, despite recovering fine economically in terms of executive salaries and bonuses, are pushing employees to work more and more free time to save on the bottom line. Your time is valuable too, so if they need your for the big deadline, they can pay. Just my two cents. Best of luck to you.

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