Hello, nice readers! Let’s take the intensity down 10,000 notches today.
I’ve been scouring the Captain Awkward archives for advice regarding my current work predicament and couldn’t find an answer so I’m writing to you for your help. Any advice would help!
I’ve been at my job at a small private consulting firm (less than 10 people total) for about a year now and even though I’m not happy, it’s a good stepping stone for my career and it helped me get away from my toxic family situation after I graduated with my Master’s degree. Recently however, things at work have been getting out of hand. My boss (D) keeps bringing in his kids (8 and 4 years old) EVERY DAY to work during the summer and they’re very disruptive. It’s hard for me to concentrate when they’re around and my anxiety goes through the roof (neck spasms, nausea, etc), which hinders my work productivity even further. It’s gotten to the point where I have to take sick days because the nausea and the anxiety get so overwhelming that I can’t go into work.
I feel bad because D is a single father; however, he can afford a nanny/daycare for his kids. The older one actually goes to camp in the mornings but then D picks him up and brings him back to the office in the afternoons. I brought up my concerns with our secretary and she told me that it’s a touchy issue with our boss. He knows that bringing in his kids is an issue and other people have brought it up to him but he refuses to do anything about it. She speculated that it could be that since this is his company, he feels that he can bring in his kids whenever he wants to or that because he’s going through a custody battle with the younger son’s mom, he wants to demonstrate to the courts that he does take care of his sons by bringing them to work even though he doesn’t attend to them and leaves it to everyone else to deal with them. He has even dropped off his sons and left when people in the office were leaving to go to lunch without asking anyone to watch them.
It’s frustrating because I don’t have D’s ability to “block out” his sons’ disruptive behavior and to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of kids in the workplace. If this job mentioned that I’d have to deal with kids on a regular basis as a condition of employment, I probably wouldn’t have accepted it.
I do work outside but it’s been so hot (upper 90s) lately that I don’t want to deal with heat stroke (it’s happened to me before and it wasn’t pleasant). I’ve also started to looking for jobs elsewhere because I can’t keep tolerating this at the expense of my health but it’s difficult because I don’t have a lot in savings. I’m planning on talking to my supervisor as well on how to best approach this topic with my boss but besides that, I don’t know what else to do.
Not a Workplace Babysitter
That sounds really annoying. The unsupervised lunch thing is just wrong. Bosses, don’t do this!
I think family-friendly workplaces are awesome, I used to work in an office that had a day care for the employees on the first floor and it was totally cool at lunch or the end of the day to see (short) toddler visits, I love the stories about professors who tell students “if you can’t find childcare, bring the baby to class, we’ll all deal,” but none of that is what’s happening here. Your boss isn’t making an “Everybody! Bring your kids to work in the summer! We’ll have a babysitter and activities and snacks!” policy (annoying the hell out of you and yet saving parental employees basically their entire salary on childcare), he’s making a “the workplace is family-friendly-for-me but un-workfriendly for you” policy.
There’s also the fact that he hasn’t really asked y’all or even told y’all about what’s going on. Even a “Hello, I’ve got my kids for the summer and I’m temporarily without a good childcare solution, so they’re going to be in the office in the afternoons for a while. We’ll all do our best to keep it to a dull roar, please feel free to close your doors/wear headphones/ignore the box fort being made by the copy machine. BTW we’re also going to institute summer hours – let’s take every other Friday off (with pay) until after Labor Day. I really, really appreciate this.” The boss who would send that email would also be the boss who would know to hire a dedicated person to watch them even if he did have an imperfect solution of needing them to be close by.
What are the chances that most or all of the people being expected to take on impromptu kindercare are women? 90%? 100%?
Here are my recommendations:
A) Look aggressively for a new job. You aren’t happy where you are anyway and you wouldn’t have taken the job if you’d known the environment would be like this. Put 85% of your energy around this situation here. Take a planned personal day in the next couple weeks to jump start working on your resume and researching listings.
B) Schedule your days around the disruption. Two examples that come to mind: You know the afternoon will be loud/annoying/anxiety making, so, schedule important stuff that requires concentration for the morning, i.e. “An afternoon meeting is better for me, I need to knock out some of Project X in the morning tomorrow.” Move less intense stuff and offsite meetings to the afternoon wherever possible. Also, leave for your lunch break slightly earlier if you can. Someone else might get stuck sitting with kids if your boss leaves, but not you, not ever.
C) Slow down. Keep your expectations low for what you can get done in the afternoons. When someone asks you when you can have something done for them, start adding padding to your deadlines to account for the fact that you are going to be close to useless for part of the day. Go easy on yourself about what you expect to get done under these circumstances. Right now it sounds like you’re letting the stress impact your health in order to keep up with the work. What if you let the stress impact the work, instead? If anyone (like your boss) asks why something that used to take one day now takes three, it’s the perfect opening for the conversation about the noise. Speaking of…
D) Ask for accommodations. Assume that he will keep bringing his kids to work at least for the rest of the summer and that right now is the new normal. To manage it, ask for accommodations around the “noise in the afternoons” or “the noisy work environment.” Yep, the noise in the afternoons is caused by the boss’s unsupervised kids who shouldn’t be there and we all know it, but you want to avoid anything that comments on his parenting or custody situation or his precious babies. Script: “It’s been noisy in the afternoons, and I am having trouble concentrating. I think I could be more productive if…”
And then ask for what would actually work for you, for example, “I need an office with a door I can shut” or “Can I work from home a few days a week, at least for the rest of the summer? I need quiet for writing these proposals and reports.”
Keep it focused on the work that you want to get done. “I want to do my best work, and to do that, it turns out that I need _______.” Help D (or your direct supervisor if he is not) help you by giving them an option that will make you happy, or at least functional. If you can tie it to client satisfaction, so much the better. “I need a quiet, private place to have phone calls with clients.” “I need to keep my mornings free of meetings, and calls right now, since that’s the quiet time of day that I need for high-focus work.”
Consulting works on billable hours. Are you billable, by chance? Are these distractions and lost days reducing the number of billable hours you work, or sending projects over budget? That would be interesting data. “I feel like the noise level is losing me about 3 hours of productive billable time/day. I really want to stay on top of my projects and billing, what do you suggest?”
See how far you get. Keep your expectations low, keep your asks short and sweet, keep your reasons few and as neutral as possible, and give people the opportunity to surprise you with “yes, of course we can do that.”
E) You may have to level with him. If he won’t accommodate you or laughs it off, this is your reminder to keep on that new job looking thing, but also, you might end up saying “Hey, you’re a working parent and I can see that you’re doing the best you can, and everyone is trying to do the best they can to support you so we’ve been quiet about how disruptive it is to have the boys here. Are you able to hire a dedicated babysitter for them in the afternoons? They are great kids and obviously doing their best to behave themselves, but even normal kid behavior can be pretty distracting.”
If you make this direct appeal, it will affect your relationship with him, and not necessarily for the better. He needs this all to work, he needs to keep thinking that it’s working, that he’s got it all under control. He may not react well to someone who implies that he doesn’t in fact have it all under control. It would be better coming from a coworker who is more senior and also a parent, someone who can say “I know how they can be, it’s not you! You’re doing your best!” Whereas, you’re new, you don’t have much authority in the office, and summer doesn’t last forever. Stress headaches and anxiety attacks and needing sick days is bad, but so is getting fired by an unreasonable dude who expects his staff to babysit for not being a “team player.” You know him and your relationship with him best, use your judgment.
When to *definitely* level with him, perhaps despite the consequences:
If you end up in a position where you are expected to be the default kid-watcher (when everyone has gone to lunch and you’re the only one there) and he’s about to drop them off and leave the office, I think a “Excuse me, but who will be watching the boys?” is a very, very good question to ask.
As a hilarious friend (who is both a manager and a parent of a small child) noted: “100% this dude thinks the answer to the question “Hey, who is going to watch them while you’re out of the office?” is “Oh, they will take care of themselves.” He will believe this, he won’t even think he is lying or trying to sneak something over on the staff.”
Narrator: “They will not, in fact, take care of themselves.”
If When he says or implies “You will,“* then you can say “Excuse me?” and at least make him say it and, if possible, repeat it. Right now it feels like it’s all in unspoken assumptions, like, he assumes y’all will watch them but he never actually asks, and that way nobody can ever actually refuse. Make him actually say “I’m going to need you to babysit my children for me for a few hours” out loud. If he says it, then you can push back on it in future discussions, for instance:
- “To be clear, are you asking me to watch your boys for the afternoon? I’m not comfortable with that.“
- “I’d feel more comfortable if you took them with you.” (Hilariously, he’s going to say “I can’t, I have a work meeting” and you will say “Precisely!” inside your head while leaving a long, awkward pause in the room.
- “If it’s an emergency one time favor for you of course I’m not going to let them come to harm’s way, but that also means X billable hours won’t happen and I won’t meet Y deadline for the client.“
Heyyyyyyyy, did I mention looking for new job as an overall strategy? When asked why you’re leaving your last job, try “I learned so much during my time there, but as I explore this career more I want to find exactly the right environment and fit.”