How to Avoid Sabotaging Yourself at Work

AKA 10 Tips for Being the World’s Best Employee

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief


I did not turn into a good employee until the year before I stopped being an employee and started being a boss. Which is a shame, because there is almost nothing more valuable to a company than a good employee (other than a good boss, but I need another ten years to even dream of writing about that). But y’all, when I talk about being an employee, I am in no way talking down to you as someone who’s lived a cushy life of management. I started working at thirteen (um, obviously not super legally), and have had all kinds of jobs, from pumping gas, to filing medical records, to frosting cupcakes for minimum wage, to working in offices where my bosses screamed at people till they cried, to navigating the particular hell of the super-corporate investment bank.

By the time I quit working for other people, I’d learned the basics of being a good staffer: be diligent, be responsible, ask questions when you have them, own your mistakes, and keep your emotions out of the workplace when you can. I’ve spent the six years since then managing my own employees, and what I’ve learned is that people walk into the same self-destructive traps over and over in their jobs. So to save you two decades of employee practice, plus half a decade of management experience, we’ve partnered with Squarespace and written up ten rules for being a good employee. Please add yours in the comments.

(And before you worry, it was my staff’s idea that I write this, so don’t pity them too much—even as I let you learn from all of our mistakes.)

Do the work. Last summer, the press was full of articles wondering about the American worker’s drop in productivity. I kept wondering if the articles were a joke, because I’m pretty sure we all know what’s hurting productivity at work, and it’s the Internet. (Shhhh, we won’t tell your boss you’re here.) Once you get settled into a desk job, it can be easy to start feeling like your salary is the thing that’s owed to you, and in return you show up and do the basics. While there are jobs you can survive on that way, it’s rare that you’ll earn your way into your boss’s heart (or get a promotion) by feeling like the world owes you a living.

So by all means, surf the Internet when you have down time. Sneak into APW Happy Hour on your lunch break. Check in on the fun when you need a break. But think about it this way: somewhere, someone put your salary down in a budget line, and said, “I really hope this person will be worth the money, because we need them to be.” Be worth the money.

Know what you’re accountable for. Many of the mistakes that I see come down to one fundamental problem. The employee in question thought the buck stopped with someone else, didn’t check on that assumption, and dropped the ball. There is nothing worse as a boss than asking where the project is only to find out… the project never happened. So if you’re not sure who’s in charge of something, check. You don’t want to find out it was you… way too late.

“Yes, and” not “No, but.” Back when I was twenty-six, someone pulled me aside to explain that I needed to stop telling my boss his ideas were bad, and try to figure out how to solve his problems. The boss in question had a lot of awful ideas, so I rolled my eyes and then quit the job. And while quitting that particular job was definitely the right call, years later I realize that the advice was also spot on. When I ask an employee to solve a problem for me, I need ideas (plural) on how to solve it. Often the problem is difficult (or I would have solved it myself), but still has to be solved. So having an employee say “No, but that’s not going to work,” makes me want to slam my head into the wall. What I need to hear is, “Yes, and we can think of a few ways to approach solving that.”

Own your mistakes. Once, back in my days of secretarial work, I managed to totally screw up an important trip for my boss. I thought I’d booked his hotel well in advance of a major conference, but I hadn’t. And at that point, the only option was to make a man who spent four nights a week on the road away from his kids stay in a godforsaken airport hotel miles from where he needed to be. I was mortified, but it was too late to fix it. So I got up, marched into my boss’s office, told him exactly how I’d screwed up, the best options I had, and that I was profoundly sorry and would try not to make that mistake again. I stopped talking and stood there bracing for the worst.

My boss blinked, thought for a second, and said, “Thanks. I guess that’s what we’ll do. No problem.” What I realized in that moment is that this is all any decent boss wants. Mistakes happen to all of us. When they happen to people we manage, we want them to own them, apologize, do everything in their power to fix them… and probably most importantly, leave their emotions at the door.

If you screwed up, your boss has every right to be (appropriately) upset. Don’t make them manage your emotions too. Which brings me to…

Be very careful how you bring your personal life into work, otherwise known as the “don’t cry at work” rule. If you’re lucky enough to have a great job and a great boss, you may well be friends with your boss outside of work. Maybe you guys get together over drinks and bitch and cry about your life. That’s fantastic. However, no matter how lovely your boss is, be very careful how you bring that behavior into the office. When you become a boss, your ultimate responsibility shifts to the organization, not the individual. That may sound heartless, but it’s the company that writes the checks that supports people’s families—often many people’s families, not just yours. And that means that your boss needs to be able to act objectively, without worrying about whatever personal drama you just dragged in the door.

TL;DR: If you’re going to have a conversation at work that involves crying, it’s probably a conversation you shouldn’t be having in the office. In fact, it’s probably a conversation you shouldn’t be having with anyone even close to their boss hat.

Communicate clearly with your boss. (Otherwise known as: don’t let your superiors be surprised, and if you have a problem, let your team know right away.) This one speaks for itself, but seems to be broken on a daily basis. If you’re having a problem, anything from feeling unmotivated by your work to seeing a mistake happening in a key part of a project—let your boss know. That said, it’s important to figure out how and when to communicate to your manager. Is it an emergency? Tell them right then. Is it something they need to know sooner rather than later? Maybe bring it up at your weekly staff meeting. Is it super big picture? Make an appointment to sit down with them when they have time. But word to the wise: your boss can’t read your mind. You have to tell them what’s on it.

If you don’t want to be there, leave. (And if you can’t leave, don’t bring that mess to work.) Who among us hasn’t been stuck at a job we didn’t want to be at? (If you haven’t been, light a candle and say a prayer of thanks). The one thing that I have learned (over and over) as a boss and as an employee is that if you don’t want to be at a job, you need to do everything in your power to GET OUT. Yes, some part of your brain will say things like, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” and, “You’ve only been here six months, what will that look like on your resume?” but the truth is that life is too short to make yourself (and everyone around you) miserable. That said, there are times you just can’t leave a job… God knows I’ve lived through those moments (I’m looking at you, recession). If that is the case, suck it up. Bitch at home. Sob into your drink. Punch your pillow. Do what you need to do. But when you show up at work, have the integrity to do the very best that you can. At the very least, you’ll have your dignity (and a paycheck).

Don’t self-sabotage. It was only when I became a boss that I realized how self-destructive humans can be. The bizarre thing that I’ve noted is that self-sabotage often happens when things are going well (not just when an employee really wants out of their position, see above). But when I have a staff member killing the game, and ready for a promotion, it’s very likely that they’ll start to demonstrate self-sabotaging behavior. They’ll turn down increased responsibility, they’ll start causing drama, they’ll miscommunicate, they’ll make huge mistakes. In fact, the list of damaging behavior is literally endless. Why? I can only guess that they’re scared of moving on up. Worse? I don’t think they have a clue that they’re doing it.

Keep an open mind. You might be hired for one job and get moved into another one. Your team might decide that a strategy that seems strange to you is the one to pursue. You boss might decide you’re gifted at something you never even thought to try (and are not sure you’ll even like). Best advice? Keep an open mind, and give it a try. Worst-case scenario? You hate it or decide you were right in the first place… at which point you can try to backtrack. Most common outcome? Someone else saw something in you or in a project that you didn’t… and you’re about to be delightfully surprised.

Be open to feedback. I know, I know. Feedback is a bitch. Take it from me, since I lived through investment bank performance reviews that resulted in people being fired. Pretty much nobody likes hearing what they’re doing wrong. But learning how to accept—and give—constructive feedback is one of the most important parts of continuing to improve in your job. If this is something you struggle with (waves!) try to come up with less threatening ways to practice getting feedback.

Maybe set up a time to sit down with a trusted colleague, and tell them all the things you think you could improve on, and then have them respond. First, it’s always easier to go hard on yourself than to hear it from someone else (and we generally all know what our real weaknesses are). Second, it can be nice to hear that X way that you thought you were totally underperforming is actually just a story you made up to torture yourself. (Flashback to me thinking everyone thought I was the laziest intern at the theatre development office… only to find out that every other intern was in awe of my 24/7 chipper conversations with high-level donors, and wondered why they didn’t have as much work as I did. Whoopsy, with the self-flagellation.)

what would you add to this list? what’s one thing you’ve seen people do over and over again (Or whoops, done yourself)—and what’s your best advice for being an A+ employee?


This post was sponsored by Squarespace. This year we are partnering with Squarespace to bring you a series of career conversations about what it means to be a woman with hustle in 2016. If you’re in the market for a new job or looking to explore your options, one of the best things you can do for yourself is create a home online where you can show off your work in the form of a portfolio site, an online resume, or another hub where you can display just how awesome you are. Squarespace provides the creative tools that make it easy to build your online home beautifully, even if you’ve never made a website before and have no idea where to start. In conjunction with our career series this year, Squarespace is offering APWers a 10% discount on your first purchase when you use the code APW16 at checkout. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit

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  • louise danger

    advocate for yourself, especially in toxic boss environments. meg mentions a boss who had regular screaming matches with employees – been there, done that, got a demotion. and in situations like that, you gotta stand up for yourself. be firm in what you absolutely need – in my case, it was a temporary “i need to leave at x-o’clock” request” – and open to negotiating the rest, and if you find the response is hostile, find a way to get what you need, and keep your head high until you can get out.

    (in my case, as it was a small office, i was able to go to the more-reasonable/more-bosslike bigwig and present the situation after receiving a hostile response from my immediate boss, and had a conversation with him – still got the demotion but was able to negotiate the other terms and to hear a non-screamy presentation of the $company side of things. i accepted his terms and was able to keep working, well-respected by everyone on the management team except screamy-boss, until i accepted a better position at a way better organization a month or so later.)

    • Alice

      Oof, been in a situation like that myself. I am not a crier at work, although I’m actually pretty sensitive in general and take that stuff pretty hard. Unfortunately I was working at a vet clinic, so the highest-up person was the owner, head vet, and everyone’s boss–no one else to go to. She had a history of shouting and screaming (she was really quite an irrational human) at employees, including other vets, even in front of clients. I’d had a few pretty negative put-downs from her before, but was able to brush them off, since everyone was subject to those when she was in a bad mood. We were also doing much more work than appropriate for the number of people and the payscale, but that’s fairly typical for vet nurses, sadly.

      But one day she totally lost it at me (as I had seen her do with employees in the past) over hownI was holding a cat–it was anxious and she thought she was going to get bitten, and she figured if anyone was getting bitten that night it should be me. She was clearly used to making people cry and shut up, and occasionally put themselves in dangerous situations. And, even though I really needed that job, I sort of had a moment of clarity and decided I wan’t going to take it. I told her in a quiet voice that I was happy to listen to feedback, but that if she didn’t stop shouting at me I would leave and not come back. Frankly, I expected her to fire me on the spot, but she looked like she had sat on a hot poker and shut up right away. I can’t say she became a joy to work with after that, and I still left that job half a year later when I was able, but she never yelled at me again.

      Which is all to say that, if you can take a risk with a boss like that, sometimes it will get you a bit more respect. Sadly, the bullies don’t all disappear after middle school, but some of them are still just as insecure, and need standing up to.

      • idkmybffjill

        Omg this is amazing.

        • Alice

          Ha, thanks! The funny part is that, if I had had any time at all to think about it, there is no way I would have had the guts to stand up to her. I would have logically talked myself into behaving more rationally to try and keep my underpaid job. So… impulsive decisions for the win?

          • idkmybffjill

            I used to work in an office with a really cruel CEO. He was never cruel to me, but I had fantasies about what I would say if he ever was…. they all looked like the above so you’re a hero. :)

      • Arie

        I’ve found this tactic useful as well. It’s only for the true bullies! But just like the bullies in middle school, once they know you are not afraid of them, they tend to leave you alone.

  • Kaitlyn

    This was good timing, as I’m feeling stuck in my job and my new manager started today and I’m not thrilled about the choice. I definitely slack off when I feel unchallenged/unmotivated, and these are great tips to keep at front of mind.

  • Angela’s Back

    I had an internship supervisor once who said basically that she’d always prefer I interrupt her to ask her a question about something I was unclear on than have to go back later and fix something. Which sounds kind of mean written out like that but she was a lovely person, and it was also great for me to hear as someone who is always very shy about approaching authority figures in any context.

    • idkmybffjill

      I don’t think that sounds mean! I feel like asking questions can be daunting and hearing that it’s better than the alternative is sort of liberating.

    • idkmybffjill

      Sorry, extra comment – but to offer an alternative, during the interview phase of my first real office job the woman who I was being hired to replace was described as being terribly not self sufficient. She was described by every employee as not resourceful. Each employee commented that she asked questions about everything instead of finding the answer on her own. Outcome – while I got really good at my job and learned alot because I had to figure it all out on my own, some things would have been resolved more quickly/efficiently if instead of poring through every instruction manual in our shared drive I’d just asked a quick question now and then :).

      • Angela’s Back

        Yes! It’s definitely a balance.

        • idkmybffjill

          As it turned out, the questions she was asking were more along the lines of “Things that can be googled quickly”. Like… “Where is the restaurant Boss wants his lunch picked up from.” But since no one told me that, I was a manual reading maniac!

      • TeaforTwo

        I think these are two different types of questions: asking your boss to clarify expectations about what they want is very different from asking about how to do something. Questions like “do you want this shared externally?” “how much detail are you looking for?” or “when do you need this by?” are all good questions. Questions like “what is the teleconference PIN?” are not.

        • idkmybffjill

          Totally. I spent a LOT of time searching through the previous person’s email archives (which I had access to) to figure out the answers to all those good questions. And I don’t think I’d have ever thought to ask the second type. Joys of starting in the work force!

    • Meg Keene

      YES this is so true. Measure twice, cut once.

  • Inmara

    Listen what your boss wants from you, and do it even if it’s presented in a “could-you-do-this-and-that-if-you-don’t-mind-please” way. We had a manager in a branch of our company (and it’s a good position to be in, salary- and company culture-wise) who was completely deaf to such requests from boss, and he couldn’t figure out why. Turned out that she dismissed all the subtle and not so subtle suggestions to do some things as a polite chitchat, and expected to get directions in the spirit of “For f%^# sake, complete the X and don’t for get the Y, dumbass!” Boss admitted that he can’t force himself to change his way of giving tasks to employees, and fired the manager. (Yes, and I learned a lot from this story, too.)

  • Rachel

    So I have a difficult situation along these lines that I suspect some people can relate to, and I’m hoping some can provide suggestions for.

    Like a lot of people with life-altering chronic illnesses, I fall into the category of “too sick to be a good employee, too healthy (or at least too inconsistently unhealthy) to qualify for disability”.

    My position is contact, so disclosing my relatively severe health issues to my employers is out of the question (my contract at my last job was not renewed after I disclosed). However I realistically can’t be the kind of employee most employers want. As part of my illness, I have profound fatigue and widespread chronic pain. While I used to be a type-A go-getter, I’m not even close anymore. I can’t self-motivate, I have to get up and go for walks frequently, I miss work regularly for medical appointments, physical therapy, tests, scans, etc. Focusing is very difficult, I often can’t follow the thread of conversations in meetings, and I can only complete work if I have very explicit borderline hand-holding guidance. I absolutely cannot work any overtime. I would be better off not working, and frankly, most employers would be better off without an employee like me who requires so much accommodation. However, I don’t qualify for disability, so not working isn’t an option.

    So I guess my question is, how do people in these situations cope?

    • idkmybffjill

      I don’t have any personal experience, and what you’re going through sounds incredibly tough! So please excuse me if this is terrible advice. But have you tried working for a temp agency? If you’re a typical Type-A you’re probably great at administrative work. And for many agencies you can tell them that week (possibly even that day) if you’re available for an assignment. I know when we use temps at my office, we don’t need anyone who can handle long term projects by any means, we just need someone to show up and keep things running for a day here and there.

    • anon

      I have a condition with similar effects. I’m fortunate to work for a really large company that has policies and resources for these situations. but even with that it’s hard. if you can, try to not judge your performance too harshly, you may view yourself as not the kind of employee employers want, but you may have skills they value highly, and even at your worst you’re better than some people’s best!

    • Rosie

      I also have a chronic condition that causes pain, it sounds like you have it worse than me though. I was reflecting the other day that I would really struggle if I wasn’t self employed so I don’t know if I have useful advice! I do think you’re being hard on yourself, you’re measuring yourself against your potential if you were well. It sounds like you’re far from a nightmare employee. Perhaps adjusting your expectations will help?

    • If you have to miss work regularly for medical reasons the organisation may well already suspect you have an underlying condition. Are they good at accommodating your appointments? What’s their sick leave policy like? If they are treating you well, maybe ask other employees if they feel they’re treated well (or if they recall any previous colleagues who were let go for medical reasons). After your previous experience you’re naturally wary, but there are good employers out there, and it’s worth figuring out if you’ve landed on your feet with this one (and if not, how you’re going to identify a good one so you can quit the bad one and move there instead).

      You’re under no obligation to disclose everything to them, but maybe having a conversation with your manager about how you work best – you focus better in short meetings with fewer people, you’re more productive if you can leave your desk regularly, you benefit from detailed instructions – and ask them about their management style. If you don’t mesh at all, can they think of any managers in the department you might work better under. Try and keep the conversation focused on positives, on what you can do for them if they let you work in your best way, rather than on the things you can’t do. Being a good employee isn’t a one woman job; it takes the whole organisation.

  • Anon for this

    I need tips for being a good employee under a terrible manager. Not yelling and screaming terrible. Kind and affirming and lazy and incompetent terrible. Her department functions better when she’s on vacation terrible.I get regular raises and positive reviews but so do people whose productivity is less than half mine terrible.

    It’s really easy to do the routine daily tasks well. It’s really hard to think any bigger than the next single assignment. Boss encourages us to think bigger, even gets frustrated that we don’t, but IMO she’s the one standing in the way.

    • Lawyerette510

      It might be the kind of job where you can’t do it much better than you already do. It sounds like you are a good employee and that the boss is not enabling you to be a great employee. That said, you probably could think bigger picture and pitch her some of your big picture ideas, even though she may not enable you to take action on them.

      Additionally, she sounds like the kind of manager that it will be difficult to distinguish yourself under and who likely will not provide opportunities for growth, so you may want to figure out your strategy for exiting her management.

      • H

        Agreed – unfortunately, most people don’t change unless they don’t want to, and that goes x3 for bosses. I would look for a new job, or figure out if there’s a different department you can work in at your current job, because it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change.

    • DetectiveMunch

      I’d love tips for this as well

    • One of the most frustrating things is working for an organisation that fails to distinguish between good and bad employees. It’s really shitty for morale to know that you can put int 200% and the guy who puts in 20% will get exactly the same head pat and gold star.

      Have you told her how she could get out of the way? Maybe start with a short term project with clear measures of success/failure. Like, “I want to work on this project, which I think fits our big picture goals. I’ll need your support for this, but most importantly I need your trust. I know from our performance reviews that you think I can do this, so I would appreciate it if you let me pick my team, contact outside contractors directly, [other related tasks where she might get involved] and I’ll send you and your superiors a weekly/monthly/quarterly update on how it’s going, and you can feed back to me in weekly/monthly/quarterly meetings. Here is my business case with all the KPIs you need to measure whether I’ve succeeded.” If she really is lazy, she might appreciate not having to do anything!

      Does your organisation have reviews that feedback upwards as well as down? If not, maybe propose them; the relationship goes both ways, so the feedback should too. If you can’t feedback to her, feedback to her line manager that you’re frustrated. They may not even be aware that morale is an issue in her department because of her management style.

  • halliemt

    I disagree incredibly strongly with the “don’t cry at work” rule. Its much easier for some people to avoid the physiological response to cry. It’s one of the body’s natural responses to stress, and as a rule, women’s bodies go there much more easily than men’s, meaning: this “rule” is totally sexist!

    I’m not saying you should bring your personal drama to work, but we should work to create office cultures that accept crying as an unavoidable part, for some, of being human.

    • emilyg25

      I cry when I’m frustrated, so I have cried at work, but I still think it’s a big no-no and should not happen regularly. Fwiw, I don’t think people should yell or make other extreme emotional outbursts at work either.

      • Lisa

        It’s in everyone’s best interests for people to maintain an even keel at work. Nothing is more awkward or derails a discussion more quickly than one person exhibiting an over-the-top response.

      • idkmybffjill

        Same. The one time I’ve cried in front of my boss was because I was overwhelmed and something else (outside of my control) went wrong WHILE I was in his office. I was pretty mortified. He was flummoxed. I couldn’t help that he called me in right then (and that I have the type of job where I can’t really ask for a minute), but it happens. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t avoid it pretty much as much as possible.

      • Meg Keene

        Agreed. Men may be more biologically programmed or conditioned to yell or punch things (maybe?), but I don’t want to see that in my office either. In fact, cry in my office and I’ll pass you a tissue. Yell in my office, and you’re fired.

    • joanna b.n.

      I actually am intrigued by that paragraph from Meg, but read it twice and still don’t get what you were going for… so maybe Meg can clarify?

    • idkmybffjill

      To me her advice read more about “don’t bring personal to work” than don’t cry, although I agree that it’s traditionally a sexist rule. Like… don’t cry because you’re having a fight with your SO to your boss. And I think this goes for both men and women.

      • emmers

        Ditto. I’ve cried at work, but it’s a rarity. Generally I try to leave my drama at home, or stay home if I’m having a cry-worthy day.

        • idkmybffjill

          Yes totally.
          I’ve never cried at work about something personal (except for once running into the bathroom after I got a terrible phone call about a health issue).
          I guess I feel like crying about a work related issue is slightly different (I’ve cried because I was incredibly frustrated before and overwhelmed), although also something that should be kept to an absolute minimum.

        • TrueGrit

          I burst into tears once when my master’s adviser asked how my vacation was because during it I had gotten some horrible news about a parent. Another time, I put so much effort into not crying at my work-study job about my friend’s suicide the day before that I knew I was acting strangely. I later sent my boss an email explaining what had happened and why I was out of sorts (and she responded very kindly, fortunately). On a few other occasions I’ve had to sneak into a stairwell at work to shed some tears about sudden medical diagnoses, family issues, etc. What do you do in the situations where you personal life is SO overwhelming, but taking a day off is not really justified/possible on short notice? What do you do when you know it is going to affect your work? Is it polite to give your boss an honest head’s up that there is a reason you’re less productive, and it’s that your mom is in and out of the hospital/your friend committed suicide/you’ve been diagnosed with a life-long illness?

          • idkmybffjill

            “Is it polite to give your boss an honest head’s up that there is a reason you’re less productive, and it’s that your mom is in and out of the hospital/your friend committed suicide/you’ve been diagnosed with a life-long illness?”

            I say YES, absolutely. These are some of those things where asking to speak to your boss one on one/preparing a bit of a speech so you can try and get through it, or sending an email as you did are really good tactics. Bosses are still humans, and I feel like most are genuinely pretty accomodating if you’re upfront about what’s going on in your life. I think this only becomes a problem if it seems like the once in a while personal problem is becoming a weekly thing for which someone might need to take a leave of absence instead of trying to keep performing regularly at work.

          • TrueGrit

            Okay, I’m glad someone thinks I’m doing the right thing here. All the supervisors I’ve had so far have been super nice and understanding, and in the end, I always quickly caught up on any work that got a little behind, but all this talk of NO CRYING had me wondering how others deal with very real, very painful emotions while also maintaining a job.

          • idkmybffjill

            I think there are honestly some people who cry a weird amount at work. At my very very first job at 18 waiting tables, I’d never really encountered people being brusk/rude to me in any way (Hi, privilege). I cried probably every day. That was super unprofessional and really awkward for my managers and coworkers.

            I had a coworker at an office job (where this was shocking behaviour) whose cat was ill and she missed upward of 3 weeks of work caring for it. (She would no call/no show and then 2 hours after start time call and say she couldn’t come in). When her cat passed away she sobbed loudly at her desk about it for probably 2 weeks.

            I think crying because your friend committed suicide/you’ve received a family diagnosis and quickly excusing yourself/explaining later is a totally different ballgame.

          • Amy March

            I think “a loved one just died” is the most acceptable reason to cry at work.

          • MrsRalphWaldo

            I found out about a friend’s suicide while I was at work ad absolutely lost it while I was trying to ask for permission to leave early. I don’t think that rule applies to those types of situations. We’re not robots.

          • Meg Keene

            Totally does not apply. This isn’t “don’t cry ever”, and more “don’t make your drama your bosses drama”

          • rebecca p

            Unless your drama is your boss’ drama? I definitely had a situation where I had an abusive colleague and I tried to professionally handle the situation several times but nothing got done until I cried in my boss’ office (and I am *not* a crier). Everybody has different jobs and different industries and while it’d be lovely not to cry at work, I don’t think this rule is universal. I prefer Tina Fey’s “If you’re so mad you could cry, just cry–it terrifies everyone”

          • Crying does terrify everyone… I considered it my unintended revenge at being laid off heh.

            But similarly, I had an abusive colleague who my boss wouldn’t approach until I ended up crying in his office after being cornered and called a few choice words by said coworker. Worst part is said coworker was not fired, not even sent home, and I had to work next to him for the next several months until I finally found another job.

          • emmers

            I think it depends on your boss (and how you think they’d respond), and also whatever it is that’s going on, an how much you want to share. For example, my current boss is awesome, so I’ve shared when things are difficult (deaths in the family, etc). But there are some private struggles that I haven’t felt comfortable sharing (miscarriage, loved on in jail, etc). And if I had a less understanding boss, I’d probably share even less.
            Sometimes I’ve done the stairwell sneak that you describe. And sometimes I’ve just kept plugging on, knowing that my work is not as stellar as usual. I feel like it’s a continuum– you do the best you can at the time, and know that there will be productivity ups and downs, but hope that the more productive times make up for the less productive times.

          • Meg Keene

            In our workplace people very much give heads up, and everyone lends support. As a boss, it’s super helpful to know what people are walking in the door with (to the extent they want me to know). Bringing your drama TO me is another issue. Being a human with feelings? Totally normal.

          • suchbrightlights

            I am a mid-level manager. If you told me that your personal life was overwhelming and you weren’t sure you had your A game with you today, I would ask you if you wanted to take a PTO day and take care of yourself. People before work.

            If you were not able to do that, and you were otherwise a reliable employee, I would do my best to stagger your work so that you had a lighter load or weren’t working on something critical. It might or might not be possible but I would want you to have at least another day to review what you had done and make any updates you felt required when you looked back at it with a cooler head. If this were weeks on end that you were going to be less productive than usual, we’d probably need to have a performance conversation, but I’d rather have a conversation in advance about “just so you know, X upsetting thing happened yesterday. I want to be here and doing my thing, but I might need a minute.” If you tell me now, it sounds like you’re being straightforward. If you tell me later, after we’ve had the performance conversation, it sounds like an excuse.

    • I’m a huge crier, it’s how my body displays any type of strong emotion. I get that it’s hard to NOT cry at some moments…but it’s really inappropriate in the office, the same way that some people show emotion by throwing things or punching walls. It’s outside of professional norms AND it stigmatizes women much more than men, which is why I suggest that my fellow criers learn some strategies on how to prevent tears in the office.

      • MrsRalphWaldo

        What has worked for you?

        • I’ve found success with a couple of techniques:
          * In the moment, when I feel the tears welling up, distracting myself with something else helps – doodling on paper, lightly pinching myself, etc.
          * I’ve also just flat out started a couple tough conversations with “just so you know, when I feel strong emotions it comes out through my eyeballs, but I’m ok and I want us to have this conversation”. Letting my manager know in advance helps keep the conversation from being derailed by my tears & them feeling bad.
          * I also worked on how I felt about myself and the source of my emotional reaction. Basically, I’m an overachiever & I don’t take certain types of feedback well, cause I always want to be “right” on the first attempt. It’s taken most of my corporate career for me to be ok with NOT always getting it right on the first try and not taking constructive feedback personally.

          • Meg Keene

            Also, legit: age. For whatever reason, I needed to cry more in my 20s, and thankfully it stabilized a lot my 30s.

          • Alanna Cartier

            Oh I hope this is true.

          • Eenie

            Looking up with your eyes can physically stop the tears too!

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            In my experience a lot of professional constructive feedback isn’t personal. I had to learn this too.

          • idkmybffjill

            Me too! I started going into meetings hoping for it, and that really changed my perspective. Like, “I’m going to go into this review and hope my boss makes some suggestions on how to up my game.” I’ve always had overwhelmingly positive reviews, so…. YMMV, but tbh sometimes I’d rather not talk about what I’m doing well – I want to know how I can be better. And shifting my perspective from “I’m a perfectionist so I need you think I’m perfect” to “I’m a perfectionist so I want you to point out areas where I’m not perfect.” really helped me get to that place!

        • idkmybffjill

          Gum works for me. Old trick from a dance teacher. Something about it’s more difficult physiologically to cry while you’re chewing.

          I mean, you have to remember to get the gum and if you’re like me sometimes the tears come out of left field and you’re like… in your boss’s office and can’t say, “excuse me, may I step out for some gum.”

          But I’ll pop some in in really stressful days as a safety :).

        • A.

          I do simple math in my head. It distracts me and makes me focus on something completely academic. It probably doesn’t hurt that I’m terrible at mental math though!

        • Cellistec

          Clearing my throat–multiple times in a row, if necessary. I read somewhere before my wedding that the physical mechanics of throat-clearing interferes with the physical mechanics of crying (at least the throat part), and it works like gangbusters for me.

      • If it’s happening every time you get feedback or that something goes wrong then that might be a problem. If someone is having a tough time and it’s a one-off thing, there is no reason to make a big deal of it, or think any less of the person.

    • Amy March

      I think “don’t cry at work” can coexist peacefully with “if someone cries at work don’t make a big deal of it.”

      • idkmybffjill

        This. I feel like the biggest problem with crying is that it stops the conversation. There’s not really a productive way to move forward in a conversation with a crying person. So… if you are a crier, excuse yourself. Get it together, come back ready to move forward. If someone cries at you, allow them to be excused (or suggest it), and then don’t be a weirdo about it when they come back ready to work.

        I also really think Meg meant less “I’m crying because I just realized I made a huge mistake at my job” and more “I’m crying because I’m in a fight with my boyfriend and so I can’t be productive today.”

        • It doesn’t have to stop the conversation at all. In m case, once I get emotional, the tears aren’t going to stop, even if I’ve moved on from whatever made me emotional in the first place. So I can carry on a very fruitful talk while seemingly crying.

          • idkmybffjill

            Hmm. I guess we’ll have to disagree. If I were a boss I’d find carrying on a conversation with a person that has tears streaming down their face extremely disconcerting, and I would prefer we picked up the conversation on another day, etc – when they were more composed.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            I think for me it depends. I had someone cry on me bc I told her one negative thing out of 50. I continued with the meeting then asked her if she wanted to take a 20 min break. Maybe I’m heartless but it doesn’t bother me really.

          • idkmybffjill

            Lol – then I guess it’s a know your manager situation! I’ve always worked for men, and crying has always been like…. deer in headlights producing.

          • Alanna Cartier


          • Amy March

            You aren’t the only person in the conversation though. And tears can be a real issue for the person on the receiving end of them.

      • Meg Keene

        Which it does in our workplace. But yes, as someone says below, it’s a constructive conversation stopper, and it tends to put a HUGE burden on the manager’s shoulders. Do you stop being a manager and start being a therapist? Really when it happens, the best thing you can do is say “you know, I’m not in a space to talk about this right now, let’s regroup.” Or for a manager to say “This seems like not a great time to discuss this, let’s take some time and come back to it.”

        AND/ OR: if it’s not directly related to a project, and it’s a personal cry, just take some time and don’t bring it back into the office.

        • Jessica

          Learning to say “I’m sorry, I really need to take a walk right now in order to get myself together” was a really powerful lesson. There was a day I was freaking out before my first major event at a new job, and I just had to take 15 minutes to walk off some nervous energy because it was coming out as frustration at my coworkers and boss. I took the time I needed and everyone was better off for it.

          Since then, a 10-15 minute walk has become part of my event day schedule. I’ve also used it when just feeling extremely overwhelmed and none of my other at-my-desk coping mechanisms are working.

          • GotMarried!

            This is also something my husband and I have been learning to do in challenging relationship moments – someone goes and walks the dog and we are better suited to talk after the fact.

        • You don’t know what previous experiences people have had that could affect their emotional response to certain feedback. The best way for the manager to deal with crying is give the person the opportunity to collect themselves and regoup later, or (if they decline) to just continue and not make a big deal of it (provide the person can carry on a productive conversation).

          • idkmybffjill

            I suppose I would say it’s just as much on the person who does happen to know how their previous experiences affect their emotional responses to excuse themselves when need be. I totally agree that a manager shouldn’t make a big deal, but my manager is also not my therapist and shouldn’t have to manage my emotions on top of my work.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        This. Because if you cry, all I’m going to do is hand you a tissue and continue what we are doing. I don’t acknowledge it (and I cry when very stressed).

    • MrsRalphWaldo

      Totally cried at work. While asking for a raise. Ouch.

      • phifernella

        Ohmygod, me too. Most embarrassing thing ever.

      • anon for this

        I cried at work after I got a raise…

        So brutal – I got a 25% raise and then, in that same conversation, my boss told me that I wasn’t dressing as nicely as I should be and that I used my silverware “like a peasant,” which is why I wasn’t getting invited to client dinners.

        The dress code thing was definitely sexist – we’re a jeans are okay every day office with a side of tennis shoes sometimes (I never wear tennis shoes, always nice flats or heels) and he told me this while I was sitting in front of him wearing nice jeans, a button down top, and jacket and he was wearing a polo shirt with a big hole in the elbow and khakis that were frayed at the bottom. I made the point that if they’d like me to dress nicer, I hadn’t had the salary that could afford me nice clothes. He gave me a $300 wardrobe stipend.

        The peasant thing…no clue. I asked him to extrapolate and he got flustered and said he couldn’t explain it. For the record, I cut meat with my right hand and use my fork with my left, so no switching hands…

        Also, my position isn’t one where I would typically go to client dinners.

        It was a very bizarre conversation – from the highest of highs to weird, bullying comments.

        • BSM

          Same! I read some peer feedback beforehand that was straight up just mean and was really upset by it, so I came into the meeting a little weepy. I didn’t expect a raise and just started crying haha.

        • Danielle

          That was a really rude way for your boss to give feedback. “Eat like a peasant”? It’s like, what do you do with that?

          FWIW my great-grandparents were basically peasants and they probably had better manners than your boss.

        • Lorraine

          I once knew a co-worker who was always impeccably dressed and was beautiful to boot. Her boss criticized her wardrobe during her review. She just looked at him and said “I spend $xxx on my suits! What’s wrong with them?”

          He replied that it must just be the way she wore them.

          She was actually the best dressed person in the place. Her boss just didn’t like her.

        • That sounds like you eat in the European style. That’s how I eat too. Maybe he just hasn’t seen that before? So weird…

    • Meg Keene

      I mean, I’m a huge crier. I’ve cried at work a zillion times. I do think, however, it’s generally not productive and can put the people you work with in a tough spot. So I do stand by the rule. Like all rules there are exceptions, and say “My grandmother just died and I’m human and crying” is a totally part of life. If you find yourself crying in a meeting with your boss however, that’s when you need to check yourself.

      I think you can argue this rule is sexist. Since I’m a woman and I only work with women, gender isn’t particularly applicable in our particular workplace. And we’re all criers.

      • Nobody wants to cry at work, and when it happens, the person is already really embarrassed about it.

        It’s a lot to expect of employees to never ever have a moment where they lose control of their emotions during a meeting with their boss (isolated incidents). There can be many reasons for such a response and as long as it doesn’t interfere from you providing them with feedback, you’d be best to move on. Rarely, during situations of high stress, my emotions get triggered and I get teary, but I continue the conversation. What are you going to do? Never give a promotion to an all-round good employee because they once cried during a meeting with you?

        • idkmybffjill

          I don’t think Meg is implying that in any way? I think it’s just something she’s advising to be cognitive. Getting teary on occassion happens (as she’s acknowledged), but it’s a far cry (pun not intended but oh well) from coming to your boss sobbing every day because you’re late on an assignment.

    • Lorraine

      FACT: Women show tears easier than men do, because women literally have shallower tear ducts!

      • Sarah

        That is fascinating.

        • Lorraine

          I know! That means a man can be on the verge of tears and yet hide it more easily just because he has deeper tear ducts!

    • Tennymo

      I agree! Sobbing at work? Outside of a personal tragedy, definitely not. Bringing your personal drama to work? Not a great idea/not professional. But welling up a bit when discussing something stressful or that you care a lot about? In my book, that is nothing to feel ashamed about or that you should need to worry about. In fact, as a feminist manager or a high performing team at a tech company, I want to rebrand crying at work: if you never do it, it’s a sign you aren’t sufficiently committed to your work. :) Both my current boss and my last boss have cried in meetings with me on one or two occasions, one of my employees cried in a meeting with me recently, and I have definitely welled up in both types of settings. It’s something that shows we are human, we care deeply about our work and each other, and that I believe people should take in stride.

    • TheOtherLiz

      I work at a progressive nonprofit, and had this other-worldly experience the day after the election – people came in bleary, puffy, red-eyed, and nobody cared or was embarrassed. A guy from another department who I’m friendly with stopped at my desk and we hugged for 5 minutes straight as he sobbed and then he said “we shall overcome” and then he played different versions of that song in his office all day long. And you know what? It was nice for us all to kind of grieve together. We had an afternoon election debrief with cookies and beers. I think it’s something peculiar to when your work community is grieving from a blow, but it was so nice to be bonded and worry less about being professional with each other!

      • MC

        Hello fellow progressive nonprofit worker! I also cried with my coworkers in the days after the election. The Friday after my boss & I had a meeting one-on-one and we both just had tears streaming down our eyes the entire time. In that shitty week it was actually a significant comfort that I have such an awesome, empathetic, supportive workplace.

    • the cupboard under the stairs

      THANK YOU. Years ago, on the second to last day of an internship (my fifth in this field), my supervisor very frankly told me I wasn’t cut out to work in the industry and I should probably find something else to do. YOU try holding tears back after hearing something that devastating.

  • Bsquillo

    A couple things that have helped me become a better employee:

    1) Even if they aren’t set for you, set deadlines for yourself- both for the completion of a big project, and for all the individual steps along the way. I’m a really deadline-motivated person, but I also tend to procrastinate…so if I don’t have a firm end date to something, it will probably get postponed forever. Sharing these deadlines with my boss or coworkers helps too, as it adds layers of accountability.

    2) Document all of your accomplishments and progress. This is great advice for when you’re trying to get a promotion, but also just to keep yourself motivated when things seem to be at a standstill. Sometimes in a big, complex system (hello, universities!), progress can be unbearably slow, and it can feel like you aren’t making a difference as an individual on a day to day basis. But it’s great to be able to reflect and remind yourself how far the needle has moved in 6 months, a year, etc.

    • idkmybffjill

      re: #2 – also tremendously helpful if you work for a company with a Review system, or if preparing your resume/talking points for a potential new role.

    • macrain

      I’ve come to realize that when my boss gives me a deadline, she doesn’t mean she wants it done in time. She would really prefer that it gets done in advance of the deadline, particularly if she has given me a decent chunk of time to get it done.
      Number 2 is an excellent idea, particularly as I stare down the task of updating my resume for the first time in 8 years. Yikes!

      • A.

        Oooof, I know that is common with bosses but it is so very much my pet peeve. If you want something done earlier, tell me to have it done earlier and I will! We’re all adults here.

        That attitude often feels to me like a mind game of stealth expectation setting that an employee can never really win, because you can never really know if you were supposed to get it done 2 days or 1 week before she actually asks for it. Infuriating.

        • MrsRalphWaldo

          I feel the same way. I use my deadlines to prioritize my work based on how long I think a certain project will take me. If I don’t have a valid deadline, I can’t be effective at my job.

          • A.

            Right? This would maybe, MAYBE work if it was my only project, but that’s never the case.

            But in any case, while I of course agree with Meg that clear communication from employees to their managers is important, I wholeheartedly believe that there is an much, MUCH greater onus on managers to clearly communicate to their employees. This kind of attitude reeeeeeaaaallly spits in the face of that. So it’s as much about principle to me as it is practicality.

          • A.

            *a much, MUCH…not “an”

            (Little things like that bug me even though I know I’m not being graded on my internet commenting! :p)

      • Bsquillo

        Man, this is really making me have a new sense of gratitude for my boss/work environment where nobody automatically expects work to be done ahead of deadlines. Mind games are dumb.

  • Quitter

    “…what I’ve learned is that people walk into the same self-destructive traps over and over in their jobs.”

    This is so me! I’m at a terrible, really uncomfortable place where I’ve stopped applying for jobs because I’ve gotten myself into the same trap so many times in the past. I don’t want to do it anymore, but I do need to work!

    Can you guys give me a kick in the pants or offer help on finding work without falling into the traps I’ve fallen into in the past? (The trap often looks like I’m a workhorse, head-down hard worker who gets excellent evaluations up until I’m so pissed off and frustrated that I quit).

    • Lisa

      Can you identify the issues you’ve had at jobs before that cause you to quit? Then you should use those to hone in on positive traits you’d prefer to have in a workplace. For example, maybe you have a boss who micromanages you to death so at your next job you identify that you want to have autonomy over your work or that you prefer to work independently before presenting a finished product for feedback.

      Once you’ve come up with a list of these positive attributes, you look for jobs that seem to fit that description. Then if/when you get called for an interview, you use the portion at the end where they ask for your questions to gain more information about whether the job is a good fit for you. I think the best piece of information I’ve taken away from reading Ask a Manager is that interviewing is a two way street. It’s about making sure not just that you win a job, but that it’s also a job you actually want to win. This is a trap I’ve fallen into myself, and I definitely did this when I started my current job. (I was in a bad situation and desperate to leave so I took the first thing offered to me, and it was a situation I’d gotten myself into because…I took the first job offered to me.) If you can find something that’s a good fit to begin with, you won’t find yourself in bad situations as often.

      • idkmybffjill

        Oh my god, this. I remember in my first few jobs googling “questions to ask at an interview” because I could never think of ones other than, “How do I get this job?”. As I’ve grown as a person/in my career I go in with a list of questions literally written out after reviewing the job description/previous interviews. It’s something I realized people did after working with a C level recruiter. All the candidates brought in questions and took notes. I was like OH DUH. I can do that.

        Partly I think my ignorance before stemmed from having a performance background where I was always just in the position of, “Do you like me for the part?”. Adopting a different attitude has totally changed the way that I interview and, in turn, my job satisfaction.

        • Lisa

          I think there’s something to that second part of being conditioned as a performer to not think anything further than “Do you want me?” I’ve spent many years auditioning and singing for things with the sole goal of hoping to be chosen from the masses. “Real” job hunting is more of a collaboration.

          • idkmybffjill

            TBH it’s something I wish had been taught more in my BFA as well. More on – is this a theatre you want to work for? How do they treat their performers? etc. than, “How to get a callback in the first 5 seconds” (Although that is also obviously valuable).

            My BFA background made me a really really great interviewee, but not always great at discerning fit. I’m quite good at figuring out how to market myself for a role, but not always as good at sussing out if the role is the one that I want. Working on it!

    • I highly recommend reading Ask A Manager – she has a lot of posts about how the interview process is a two-way street, and that jobseekers should be interviewing the company just like the company is interviewing them. Reading that totally changed how I looked at interviews, and the types of questions I asked to evaluate if a job/manager/team/company were a good fit for me, and to also keep myself from getting in the same situation over and over.

  • LP

    I’d like to add that if somebody is complaining to you always sincerely offer to help. A lot of times they just need somebody to vent to, but most people who are upset about something really respond to being offered help. It’s often just something simple, but I’ve also gotten some of my favorite projects for offering help. My mentor for my internship always said “there’s always room in the world for somebody who is willing to help,” and I’ve always really identified with that statement.

    • compassionate but firm

      Sooo, I’m all for this in concept, except that of late, several of my coworkers seem to be complaining about their workload to me, instead of bringing up the issue with our boss. So to offer to help them (esp. when my own workload is plenty high) seems like enabling victim-y behavior. Which, is frustrating to say the least.

      • DetectiveMunch

        I’ve been the enabler in this kind of situation (and sometimes still am, unfortunately) and it’s super frustrating. Part of me is like, “Yes, I’d like to help you because I am a decent human being and this task needs to get done.” The other part of me is like, “You were assigned this task for a reason and are the person responsible for completing it. Figure it out.” Sigh.

      • I guess the best help you can offer there is to ask them how you can help them tell the boss about the problem. Do they want everyone to present an argument together for more support staff? Are they’re struggling to figure out how to demonstrate that they’re overworked? Do they want someone to hold their hand while they tell the boss the scary thing? Or do they just want to vent? And then… leave them to it, because it’s not your job to herd the cats. Ultimately, it’s on them to figure out the solution they way, rather than just complain about the problem.

  • Isabelle

    I need help with the self-sabotaging! I was recently promoted (this summer) after having been told I was killing it in my previous position, and ever since the promotion, I feel like I have been making mistake after mistake, am completely incompetent, and it’s only a matter of time before someone realizes what a giant mistake this all was and fires me. I now have serious panic attacks about basically everything I do, which is not helping me become a calm and collected employee. Has anyone experienced this? Is it impostor syndrome? What do I do to live up to the expectations?

    • rg223

      I too have struggled with this. I personally am so hard on myself much of the time, and it helps me to be aware of my self-talk and change my mindset. If I were you, I would take a step back and give myself a break! You are still learning the job, no matter how much experience you have with the company and industry. I forget what the theraputic term is for this, but do a reality check – when you talk about living up to expectations, are you truly thinking about your boss’ expectations, or the ones you have for yourself? Your bosses are probably not holding you to perfection as you grow into this role. And do lots of self-care in the off-work hours – therapy could be part of that if the panic attacks are affecting your work. Good luck!

    • BSM

      I’m not sure I agree with the self-sabotaging point above, but I definitely have had the same experience as you. I just think it’s Imposter Syndrome, not me (and likely not you) actually making any huge mistakes.

      I agree with rg223 below, try your best to give yourself a break. It helps me to think about colleagues I have who I think of as successful/exceeding expectations/good at their job and remember mistakes I know they’ve made. I never think any less of those people because they’re not perfect, so why should I do that to myself?

      The other thing that I find helpful is to directly ask my managers for feedback. I find that it’s more the anxiety of not knowing if I’m doing a good (or bad) job that is worse than knowing what I should work on. Once I hear that things are going well and have a few concrete things I can work on, I feel SO relieved and know where to focus my efforts.

      • Isabelle

        that’s a good point – my manager wasn’t too clear about his expectations except “well, you are pretty much in charge now, come see me if there’s a major crisis”. He’s a nice person but incredibly busy, stressed, and not really open to personal talks, so I will do my best to actually have that conversation at that point, but can’t say it’s going to be easy.

        I also was promoted alongside a colleague who works 14+ hour days, and every single weekend, which means I’m constantly comparing and feeling like I’m falling short because, well, I plan on having a life, thank you very much.

        • Have you talked to your colleague about why they’re working so much? I feel like that level of commitment suggests s/he is also suffering from some severe imposter syndrome that they’re combating the wrong way (or there’s something at home they’re avoiding). Maybe putting in some time for a chat that’s basically “so, we both got promoted at the same time, how do we both feel it’s going, and is there anything we can do for each other” could be a chance for a bit of a reconciliation of expectations and needs. If your roles are similar, you can compare notes, but even if they aren’t you can compare how your company handles promotions. It’s not good practice to hand someone a new role and then walk away and leave them to figure it out, and if you’re both struggling with that then you can approach management together and ask for a roadmap.

    • Jess

      I have no assistance to offer you. My entire life is one big old cycle of achievement-minor failures-fear-self sabotage-crisis.

      I am currently in the middle of the transition from self-sabotage to crisis. Will report back.

      • Isabelle

        So glad to hear I’m not alone! I’m trying therapy, because the anxiety is getting out of control (Wedding planning is also not helping). Will report back on progress.

        • Jess

          Therapy has been very helpful in my crisis moments!

          I bounce in and out, because sometimes I’m fine and feel like I have nothing to talk about, and sometimes I’m feeling myself fall off the deep end. I need to work on setting groundwork for managing things before they become crises.

  • Carrie Hoffman

    Wow, so good to read this today! I just had a BAD day at a job that I love, because I asked my boss for a raise and she basically made me feel like crap for even asking. I asked because my manager has been out recovering from surgery for A MONTH and I’ve been doing my job and her job the entire time (I’m the assistant manager at a small hotel). So I asked for a raise today, and my boss belittled me, condescended to me, and twisted all my words around to basically tell me I was wrong for asking. She kept asking me to list every task I had to do that was an extra burden on me during this time. I was trying to stand up for myself so I said, “I shouldn’t have to explain to you why there is normally a Manager and an Assistant Manager needed here when you were involved in the creation of that setup.” She then literally said “Actually, the only reason we created the Assistant Manager job was so that there would be someone to work on the Manager’s days off.” I said, “Wow, that makes me feel like crap!” She immediately started backpedaling. I could tell she knew she should not have said THAT. So I find out what my raise offer will be in a couple days. But dude, FUCK her manipulative, condescending SHIT!
    Sorry for venting. Anyone else ever been in a situation like this? Where you’re being taken advantage of and then are made to feel guilty about standing up for yourself?

    • ll

      SUPER common in the non-profit world, since it’s way too easy for bad managers to guilt their employees about wanting PTO/reasonable working hours/a living wage with ‘that’s taking away from the people we could be helping, don’t you care?’. Good managers make all the difference, but standing up to the bad ones and refusing to take manipulative shit for the ‘greater good’ helps everyone in the long run. The non-profit sector has the worst record in the US when it comes to employment law, but insisting you receive adequate compensation for your work in any sector helps everyone in that sector out by raising the standard.

      • Lisa

        This is why I left my previous job. It was a non-profit I love and of which I’ve been a member for many years, but we were way understaffed/underpaid, and there was definitely a culture of “If you don’t work 50-60 hours a week, then you don’t care about the population we serve.” I wasn’t even making 30k at that job, and I couldn’t stand the thought that, if I worked all of the hours they wanted me to work, I would barely be making more than I do at my retail side job. That sense of injustice really helped me reinforce my boundaries and prompted me to negotiate harder when I started my current job.

        And speaking of employment law… they had literally every employee classified as exempt to justify the hours they worked. Even the front desk people at all of our regional offices. The awful HR lady thought that by renaming titles to not include the word “administration” or “assistant” that it automatically took a person’s work to the exempt level.

    • Kelly

      Hotel industry solidarity…

    • TeaforTwo

      Can I suggest that the next time you ask for a raise, you do have a list prepared?

      It sounds like your boss didn’t respond very professionally to your request. And stepping in to cover for the manager must involve additional work. Laying out those additional tasks and responsibilities would make a stronger case, especially in response to a boss who is responding defensively. I think it speaks to Meg’s point about being worth the money – if you won’t explain why you are worth the money, your boss won’t necessarily see it FOR you.

      • Carrie Hoffman

        Right, point taken, and I will do that next time. But when the person I was asking is the person who designed the roles I was filling as two full time jobs, having to explain why they are two full time jobs to her seemed a bit redundant and unnecessary.

  • Rachel102712

    Love this post–I have since made a little checklist of these 10 strategies on a sticky note for my office to serve as a reminder. I am also a crier, and one thing I have really struggled with lately is how to address our struggle with infertility/history of miscarriages during conversations at work as I get to know my new coworkers. This is obviously a very personal problem, and is one that I can’t discuss without becoming emotional. And it’s not that I’m going into work to discuss my personal problems–but more so, how do I respond to the seemingly innocuous questions about having children? Several of my coworkers are new parents, and I am definitely in the minority here by not having children and therefore don’t have much to contribute to a lot of my coworkers’ lunch time conversation. I try changing subjects, but ultimately these discussions seem to go back to family. If anyone has any thoughts or experience with this, I’m all ears.

    • idkmybffjill

      Is the main problem the questions about children? Because IMO, saying once, “That’s a really sensitive subject” would likely stop the questions. (I would hope) Often, people don’t get how insensitive they’re being.

      If it’s the reality that lunchtime conversation always centers on this sensitive subject… I would maybe just suggest not having lunch with them. I know that’s not a great solution, but groups usually have topics that they focus on alot, and if theirs is something that is upsetting for you, you don’t have to just sit there and hold it in!

    • Danielle

      There’s probably a simple way you can respond, like, “We’re not planning on having children anytime soon,” or, “No, we don’t have any kids,” and just leave it at that.

      If people pry (and I hope they don’t, but people are sometimes idiots!), you can just smile and repeat the simple statement, “No, we don’t have kids, thanks for asking,” until they shut up. Sometimes being really polite yet firm will stop people from their rudeness.

    • Amy March

      “No I don’t have kids.” “I’d rather not discuss it.”

    • TeaforTwo

      When I was in your position, I would respond with a shrug and a “who knows?” to questions of whether and/or when I wanted kids. I don’t think that people ask to be rude…I think they’re often just making conversation. “Who knows” brushes the question off without creating an awkward moment where the inquirer feels embarrassed for intruding, and then everyone can move on.

      I was quite open about my infertility with many people in my life except for colleagues. I didn’t want to be watched closely for signs of pregnancy and/or emotional breakdown, didn’t want to field insensitive input while trying to keep my composure, and didn’t want to signal that I might not be around for long due to an impending maternity leave (especially since I knew it might be a long time before that day actually came.) Your mileage may vary, but it wasn’t something I was willing to share at work.

    • Rachel102712

      Thanks for the input. At my previous position, I did talk openly about it after I had to miss a week of work due to a miscarriage. Not with everyone, but with the co-workers I felt closest to who I knew would be supportive. My supervisor was also very open about the infertility struggle he and his partner experienced, and it was common knowledge that his daughter was adopted. I think it was helpful for others to be aware of what my partner and I were going through, and it allowed them to be sensitive about the subject when I was around. For example, another woman in the office was pregnant and my co-workers threw her a baby shower at work during a week I was out of the office.

      In my new position however, I am still testing the waters as to whether it would be helpful to broach the subject. Part of me really wants my coworkers to know, again just so that people are aware that this is a sensitive issue for me. However, I also appreciate what TeaforTwo is saying, about not wanting people to be watching for signs of pregnancy, an emotional breakdown, or impending maternity leave. Infertility is already such an isolating experience, so I don’t want my solution to be to not have lunch with/get to know my new co-workers. I imagine I will just tell people individually when I feel the timing is right. But for now, I simple “No, I don’t have kids, just a dog” will do.

  • Argentum

    I think every one of these applies to being the world’s best boss, as well, although if you don’t technically have a boss then I’d rephrase “Communicate clearly with your boss” to “Communicate clearly with those you are accountable to” – be it customers, investors, employees, regulators, a board, shareholders, whatever.

  • Cellistec

    I have a great job with the world’s best boss and colleagues, but I still really need this attitude adjustment at the moment. Thanks Meg. Currently making sticky notes that say “be worth the money” and “yes, and” (to put where only I can see them).

  • Jess

    Oh self-sabotage. Hello old friend. I have that one crop of so many times. If only it were so easy as to say “don’t do it.”

    Maybe it is, but I’ve not found a way to move past it yet.

  • CommaChick

    This piece is timely. I recently started a new job and would love to proactively stay motivated.

    On a tangential note, I would so like to share this piece with many of friends – the content is great – but I don’t like sharing pieces that use gendered words like “bitch” so casually. I’m not sure whether the use is intentional reclaiming of the word or whether it’s unintentional and slipped in there, but “Bitch at home” and “Feedback is a bitch” and “bitch and cry about your life” just seemed excessive to me and really distracted me from parts of the article.

  • Christina Helen

    I definitely agree re: having a “Yes, and” not “No, but.” attitude, for the most part. But I also think it’s really important to raise issues when they arise, and to mention potentially problematic consequences if you can see that a decision could lead to disaster down the road. There’s this piece of advice that floats around that says you shouldn’t bring your boss problems, just solutions. And I really think that is terrible advice.

    As our team’s manager and workflow designer, I see it as my *job* to come up with solutions to problems for the people who are working under me. It drives me crazy when, in the interest of maintaining a positive attitude, they don’t mention to me that they’re experiencing issues. Inevitably, things blow up and then there’s a bunch more work for me to do than if they’d brought the problem to me in time for me to design a solution.