Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name and location, even if you want them withheld. Letters may be edited.
Good morning! It’s me and I’m here: your new Work Friend, assembled from the frantically selected parts of expired Work Friends. Choire Sicha’s blog-hardened heart; Megan Greenwell’s Millennial fortitude; Katy Lederer’s unorthodox spelling of “Katie” — all are united in the hideous yet undeniably proportionate form of me, a Millennial former blogger named Caity.
Like the monster of Victor Frankenstein’s creation, I have spent years learning to be human by eavesdropping and spying on strangers at work — and occasionally enumerating all my complaints in dramatic personal confrontations. As the creature beseeched his creator for a mate, so do I know what it is to simultaneously resent and remain beholden to a supervisor. The moment the doctor achieved his objective, he fled from his responsibility; several of my own bosses have lacked formal management training because of the deeply disorganized nature of media promotions.
For the next six months, I will confidently answer your questions without betraying the true depraved depths of my innermost thoughts — a skill I honed as a fitting-room attendant at Marshalls. I will analyze your co-worker disputes with the panache of one who has made lifelong companions and enemies both in offices and while working from home. I will prise you from the rigor-mortis grip of your anxieties and tell you what time of day to email people. (8:50 a.m. Prewrite the email the day before and schedule a delayed send.) (Contact me if you don’t know how.) As Frankenstein’s dæmon famously menaced him, I will even “be with you on your wedding-night” — provided your wedding night is directly relevant to some employment conundrum.
All I ask in return is that you submit questions about your real-life life to email@example.com.
I’ve recently started a contract position with the opportunity for eventual full-time employment. My previous contract consisted of short-term assignments with weeks or months of no work at all, and this new position has minimum quotas for daily production.
I had a panic attack, complete with puking in the lav. How do I relax and do my work in those moments when I think I don’t measure up? I believe my work is fine.
— C.P., Illinois
When I feel anxious, I draw comfort from the high probability that our planet will one day be engulfed by the sun.
But let’s analyze your situation through the lens of a biological truth: Humans hate change.
You got so nervous about starting a new job that you threw up. Not ideal, but also not unheard-of. Humans hate change so much that sometimes the sheer fear of it makes our bodies go haywire. This is why we are all unfit for work of any kind.
As for your unease about the future, let’s assume the worst: that you are a terrible worker, totally unfit for the job, who should be fired immediately. The odds you will be are low, because humans hate change. Not only would the bosses have to cast about for your replacement, and do that person’s new hire paperwork, and process your outgoing paperwork — they would also have to fire you, which is an unpleasant activity many cowards will go out of their way to avoid.
You say you believe your work is fine, but worry about negative thoughts. Listen to me — the words you are reading right now? I hate them. I regret my decision to select these specific ones from the rich English lexicon and am embarrassed at the idiotic way I have chosen to arrange them into these sentences. My worst possible fate is being buried alive while also burning to death slowly, and the second worst is hearing someone read these paragraphs back to me aloud. But the fact is, they’re probably fine. (By which I mean they’re definitely terrible, but the average person will probably think that they’re fine, because the only person on Earth who actually understands what is good is me, which is an awful burden to have.)
If you can overcome your self-doubt enough to say you believe your work is fine, there’s a good chance it’s actually better than fine. If it’s not, fine is good enough in most cases. It’s not your job to tell yourself you aren’t doing well; it’s your bosses’ job, and they are paid more money than you are to do it.
Snitches Get Kisses
An ex-employee of the company where I work is under consideration for a new job at a wonderful place. He is a perfect fit for the position. The problem is that the hiring manager at the new job is calling around, asking why the ex-employee left in the first place. The actual answer is that someone in management, who subsequently left, simply hated his guts. There is no real way to reveal that without ignoring the informal company norm of simply verifying that he worked here from date X to date Y. What is the ethical thing to do?
If the most blisteringly honest thing you can say about someone is that they would be a perfect fit for a wonderful company, you have no ethical obligation to keep this secret from the world. I make it a point to say kind things about people behind their backs. It promotes a feel-good atmosphere and, if word ever gets back to them, I assume I look like a hero and that they can’t stop crying.
Whether the call is for basic due diligence or an attempt to dig up dirt (by a wonderful company?), you can reasonably respond to it with something like, “I remember him fondly. He worked here from date X to date Y,” and maybe top it off with your observation that this job sounds like a great fit. It’s possible to both remain professional and do him a good turn without sharing the plotlines of your workplace’s psychological melodramas. These should be emailed directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caity Weaver is a writer for the Styles section and The New York Times Magazine. Write to her at email@example.com.