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NYTimes
New York Times
16 Dec 2023
Roxane Gay


NextImg:Hello, I Do Not Work Seven Days a Week

Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to workfriend@nytimes.com. Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.

Boundaries, aka, I Am Not a Brain Surgeon

I am a freelance creative, and my contracted employers seem to think I am available 24/7, including weekends. They give me assignments late Friday afternoon with a due date of Monday morning. Or they ask me to join impromptu meetings (virtual and on site) with little regard to my schedule.

Part of why I freelance is to avoid the expectations of 9-to-5 office culture and have days reasonably free for errands and parenting adventures. I share my availability or say, “I can get to this Monday,” to make clear I am not giving up my weekend, but they continue to Slack after 6 p.m. and on the weekends.

It feels extra insulting because part of the reason companies hire contractors is to avoid paying the salary and benefits of a full-time employee. Yet they still expect full-time access.

This is an ongoing issue across contracts. What is the best way to enforce that as a contractor, I am not an emergency doctor, on call? Why is it so hard for companies to remember freelance is not full time?

— Anonymous

Employers, as you point out, often turn to contractors to extract full-time labor without having to take on the financial responsibilities of having full-time employees. They don’t care about how you want to manage your days. They don’t care about your boundaries. The only thing you can control is you. They are going to continue Slacking, emailing and otherwise reaching out, regardless, but you don’t have to engage. If you don’t want to be available after a certain time, make that clear and don’t make yourself available until you are ready to clock back in, so to speak. Don’t check your professional email account after whatever time you decide. Don’t check Slack. If you are offered an assignment on late Friday afternoon, let them know you will not be able to do the work until Monday morning because you are not available on the weekend. This may mean you lose some contracts, so you must decide what matters more, the work or your time. What I tell people when they expect something unreasonable is that their urgencies are not my urgencies and/or there are no writing emergencies. Sometimes, that perspective helps.

Working With Humans, Rejected by a Bot

Last year, I produced work for a freelance client that was so successful they publicly held it up as an example of the work they expected from other freelancers alongside some incredibly accomplished people. That bit felt great.

When a full-time job opportunity doing the same work at said organization presented itself, I applied because I love the work and really enjoy working with my colleague/point person. I submitted my résumé, references and a thoughtful cover letter outlining what I’d already achieved and what more I could offer. I leveraged the value of my experience and pointed out how, between our perspectives, my younger colleague and I could cover more ground.

A few weeks later, I received a bot rejection, stating they’d “decided to move forward with other candidates whose skill sets are more closely aligned with our needs.” Needless to say, I found this dismissive rejection without the opportunity to interview demoralizing. I’d like to stress again that I was, and am, doing the actual job. The quality of my work and relationship with my colleague clearly isn’t the issue because they keep hiring me.

Do I have any recourse? Is there any benefit to asking human resources for clarity? This whole experience has been challenging for me. My colleague is aware of the situation and hasn’t addressed it, but she does offer me work. I don’t want to burn the bridge.

Anonymous

When you’re on the job market, nothing is guaranteed. You may be eminently qualified for a position, have a relationship with the company or any number of other factors and still not receive even an interview. And worse, you may never truly know why you weren’t chosen.

Work life is often unfair, and it is unfortunate, but you have little recourse. You can, certainly, reach out to human resources but you’re seeking an explanation that will not satisfy you, no matter what it is. You didn’t get an interview and you didn’t get the job and given everything you’ve outlined here, that is confusing and, yes, demoralizing. You have to find a way to move forward. Certainly, allow yourself your disappointment. This is lousy, but you will get past it.

Maybe you stop working with the client. Maybe you apply for other full-time positions elsewhere. Maybe you broach the subject with your colleague, tactfully, so you can at least get some clarity and information that may help you moving forward. However you move on from this, you know one thing for certain — you produce excellent work and will continue doing so.

Grammar Patrol

Is it appropriate to correct an employee’s spelling in emails? If so, is there a tactful way? What should I say? Is it possible he can’t do better?

I manage someone (with his own direct reports) who’s prone to spelling mistakes in emails. English is his first language. I understand what he means but am disappointed, especially with how many resources there are to spell check. It’s not every email, maybe once a week. Should I address it? If so, how? I get frustrated with white dudes getting away with carelessness. I worry that it will threaten his credibility with his team and the company.

— Anonymous

In general, if someone has a consistent problem with spelling, you can point out the problem diplomatically. That said, this seems like more of a personal peeve than a professional problem, which is fine. We all have peeves. A spelling error once a week isn’t necessarily indicative of a real problem. It sounds like your employee sometimes writes emails too quickly and doesn’t take time to look over his work before sending it. He is careless, and the real cause for concern would be if that lack of care manifests in other aspects of his work. As his manager, simply take him aside or write him an email, cautioning him to take more care in his written correspondence. If you have two or three recent examples of misspellings, share them so he is clear on what you’re referencing. Remind him of the ubiquity of spell checkers. And lastly, offer him support if he needs resources to improve his spelling. As far as white dudes getting away with carelessness, I’m afraid that’s a problem that is going to be far more difficult to solve.

Mideast Politics at Work

I work at a company where the owner/chief executive has very strong public opinions on the Israel/Palestine conflict and whose (publicly known) private philanthropic activity is directed to supporting the Israel Defense Forces. As someone whose views of the conflict are opposed to theirs, I am uncomfortable at the office. I do otherwise enjoy working there, like my colleagues, and the job. I also know that sharing the same political views as your C.E.O. can be silly criteria for taking/keeping a job at a company, but this hits different. Am I making too big a deal of this?

— Anonymous

Only you can say if you’re making too big a deal of this. Clearly, the differences between your views on Israel/Palestine and those of your chief executive are troubling you. Now, we have to live and work with people who hold different perspectives. Most of the time, this is normal and healthy when we are surrounded by reasonable people and not extremists. Few geopolitical issues are as polarizing as this one. It is a conflict (such an inadequate word) that no entity has been able to resolve for nearly a hundred years. We are not going to adjudicate the issue on social media or in the workplace or when we’re discussing it with our friends and family. But you have to decide what your boundaries are.

Here are some realities: Every single day, Gaza is being bombed, relentlessly, by the I.D.F. Israel will not stop, it says, until all the Israeli hostages have been released. Israeli officials are unmoved by international protests, the United Nations, or public outcry in Israel or anywhere else. And we cannot overlook decades of occupation. Hamas is equally relentless. Its members are terrorists who entered Israel, killed 1,200 people and took hundreds of hostages. It will continue committing acts of terror. It will not stop, its leaders say, until all of Palestine is free and Israel is destroyed. That’s unacceptable. We have to say that. It is horrific, all around.

How do you resolve such obdurate stances? More than 15,000 people, mostly Palestinians, many of them children, have been killed since Oct. 7. That has to be said, too. This mass killing will continue until the United States decides enough blood has been shed. Sadly, we live in a bloodthirsty world. This does, indeed, hit differently. Can you tolerate working for someone who is contributing money to the I.D.F.? I suspect you already know the answer.