Two internet advice columnists walk into a bar: Captain Awkward & Ask A Manager Collaboration (Part 1 of 2)

My combined Christmas/birthday present this year was a trip to Washington, D.C. to catch up with some very old friends who were managing to be both in the same country and the same city all at the same time for the first time in almost 20 years. We’ve seen each other piecemeal over the years but the last time we were all in the same room was my going away party in late July 2000, so I could not miss this rare convergence and chance to relive my early 20s with people who truly remember them (from a safe distance). IT WAS THE BEST TRIP. I laughed so hard. I ate so well. IT WAS THE BEST.

While I was in the region, I was lucky enough to meet some longtime internet friends in person. There was a relaxing and fun birthday party in Northern Virginia with people whose wise words I’d been RT’ing and pets I’d been ogling on Twitter for years, there was taking the train up to Philadelphia for a delightful dinner with our beloved Lenée aka @dopegirlfresh aka “the Mayor of West Philly” and Ali of @OK2BFat, and there was the chance to sit down for an afternoon coffee with Alison of Ask A Manager and talk her ear off about how we do this weird, wonderful job. It is that last bit that spawned this post, since Alison and I decided it would be fun to collaborate on answering a few questions using her “Five Answers To Five Questions” format and crosspost them to both sites.

Here are two answers to two questions, with three more to follow this week.

1. Can I talk about my boyfriend’s other girlfriend at work?

“Adam” is dating both me and “Jane,” and we all live together.  We aren’t really into any sort of “polyamory scene” sort of thing; this is simply an arrangement that happened because it’s what works for us and our happy little family.

Moving in with them coincided with a new job, and I really don’t know how to talk about it at work, or if it’s even appropriate.  I’m so used to talking freely about Thanksgiving plans; but it feels overly personal to say that we’re flying out to spend Thanksgiving with Jane’s family (because that would lead to: Jane?  Who is Jane?). 

Jane has some work-appropriate, performance-related hobbies, so weekend plans often involve going to shows that are in that sphere; it feels oddly dismissive of Jane and her place in my life to say, “oh, I’m watching my friend’s performance,” but at the same time, overly TMI to say, “oh, this weekend I’m watching my boyfriend’s other girlfriend’s performance.”

Thus far I’ve just… kind of avoided the details, but have mentioned “Jane” or my “friend” or “housemate” a bit.  I’m comfortable and confident with my household arrangement in other spheres of my life, but work is a place where I like to abide by the rules, and I really don’t know what the rules are here!  It feels so weird to have this person who is so integrated into my life, and then not really know how or if to talk about her.

I know my workplace is at least a little bit open (I’ve got a trans coworker, and that’s No Big Deal), but it isn’t particularly progressive. Very much a Normal Office.

P.S. I think a coworker thinks Jane is my daughter.  If this ever comes up, should I correct them?

Jennifer: To me, there are three things in tension here: 

  1. The more non-traditional romantic and family structures become boring and routine, probably the more safety and comfort people in non-traditional relationships will have. You’re harming nobody, secrecy increases stigma, so why not share it without making a big deal the way anybody would talk about a spouse or partner at work?
  2. Unfortunately, depending on where you live and work, there is stigma and legal discrimination against people in any relationship that isn’t one man and one woman that can have real professional and legal consequences, and privacy isn’t a thing anybody can get back once it’s out there. 
  3. Who specifically is in your workplace, what is the culture there, and how many questions about non-traditional relationships do you want to answer from your coworkers if you bring this up? Do you want to take on an educator/ambassador role, do you want to risk releasing the kraken known as That One Guy Who Is Just Very, Very Curious About Your Exact Sleeping Arrangements? And do you want to do this at work? 

Really there’s no one right thing to do and no wrong one either. Asking Jane and your boyfriend how they’d like to be referred to and specifically how much of their private business they are comfortable with your coworkers knowing is probably a good idea before you make any detailed corrections, as in, you’re worried about being “dismissive of Jane” but Jane doesn’t have to work where you work nor does she necessarily want to be a topic of discussion there. 

When in doubt, “Oh, she’s not my daughter, Jane’s my close friend and also our housemate, we think of her as family” works just fine.“Partner,” “Part of the family,” “My boyfriend’s other partner,” etc. might work if you want to disclose more in a way that people familiar with polyamory will pick up. 

Most likely this will be fascinating for a week or so and then probably nobody will care because they aren’t that interested, and That One Person can always be told it’s none of their beeswax.

Alison:  I’m so glad Jennifer answered this first because I’m really conflicted on this kind of question. On one hand, I am all for reducing stigma about personal choices that harm no one — especially when it can be done by people who are in a relative position of safety. And I’m acutely aware of how “you must hide this core thing about who you are when you’re at work” often plays out in ways that are harmful and oppressive, especially when your coworkers don’t have to hide parallel things from their own lives. On the other hand, the reality is that there is still a stigma against polyamorous relationships, and it very well may affect your career if this becomes a gossipy thing that gets mentioned ahead of your work when your name comes up.

So I think you’ve to figure out (a) how your specific office is likely to respond to this, and maybe your broader field or network, since at some point you’ll change jobs and people talk, and (b) how much you care, which is a combination of how uncomfortable/unhappy you’ll be if you hide the nature of the relationship and how concerned you are about potentially dealing with weirdness or bias from people in your professional realm.

I’ll also note that whenever this comes up, some people like to argue that coming out as polyamorous is TMI — that it’s “sharing things about your sex life that they don’t want to hear.” So I want to state for the record that this is no more that than sharing the existence of any other partner is. It’s about sharing who you love and who you are in an important relationship with. The culture as a whole hasn’t totally figured that out yet — which is why this is still a question — but it’s worth flagging in any discussion here.

2. I like my job but my company is postponing a promised promotion and cutting everyone’s pay. Should I stay or go?

I’m an entry-level employee at a small company of about 40 people in a major city with high cost of living. Despite my previous three years of experience in the industry, I was hired at the lowest level in the company and told I would be eligible for a promotion within a year if my performance went well. Fast forward a year and a half and my performance has been stellar and I was on the track for a promotion. However, the company is undergoing dramatic financial issues and last week management cut everyone’s salary by 10% to preserve our financial stability. A lot of the entry-level employees were baffled and asked that we be exempt from the cut since we make the least and have the least amount of decision-making power that led to this situation. To accommodate us, management cut entry-level pay by 5% and everyone else received the 10% cut. They’re planning to maintain the cut throughout all of 2020. In addition to the salary cut, they’ve frozen all new hires and promotions for this year.

I feel defeated because my promotion (and accompanying raise) will not happen in 2020. I also feel angry because management is planning on creating more products to boost our sales and revenue, which means everyone will be working harder for less pay in the hope that our sales improve next year. Management is adamant that this difficult time is for staff to “give back” to the company and make sacrifices for the whole.

All my friends and family say I should run, quit, and find a new job ASAP. I feel hesitant because I did really like my job before this happened and felt like I had a career trajectory at this company. I’m also struggling to determine if I owe it to the company to stay, put in the work, and weather the storm of 2020 for $3,000 less a year than what I was making. I think my manager is sensing my hesitation because he offered me a title-only promotion without an increase in pay. It feels like a consolation prize and the more reality sets in, the more I’m concerned about my financial and professional future if I stay. Am I selling myself short if I stay? Am I a traitor if I leave?

Jennifer (Captain Awkward): Imagine for a moment that you are an investor considering putting money into your company. Does a firm “undergoing dramatic financial issues” that forced even its most junior staff take a pay cut, froze all hiring and promotions for a year, and then still thought it could develop and launch new product lines sound like the safest bet? The company is gambling that that this move will pay off and maybe it will, but a smart investor wouldn’t put 100% of their money and hopes into this place and probably neither should you. What’s the harm in looking around to see what’s out there and applying to interesting opportunities? You’re not obligated to take any offers that aren’t a better fit than you have now, but if things “dramatically” deteriorate you’ll be glad you have options.

If you decide to accept the title boost (it’s good for your resume whether you stay or go), ask for something in return and put it in writing. Could be a retention bonus (“I’ll stay in this role for one year in return for $X now and $Y at the end of that year”), could be a retroactive raise in 2021 (“On Jan 1, 2021 the company agrees to raise my salary to $X and pay me retroactively for the months I worked as [title]”), could be more paid vacation, could be more flexibility to work from home, could be offloading your most hated tasks to someone else and taking on more of what you want to do with your time. Negotiate something in consideration for taking on more work and I’ll repeat it again – get it in writing. It doesn’t have to be a contentious thing, you can tell your boss how much you appreciate him for going to bat for you to have the new role and just add in that it would be foolish not to ask for something in writing about compensation given how much the industry and company finances fluctuate. If he gets mad at you, calls you “disloyal” or “entitled,” or tries to manipulate your emotions to get you to forgo money, it is a sign that you should quietly accept the promotion and start sending out your resume IMMEDIATELY. 

Finally, I want you to excise the word “traitor” from your vocabulary when you think about this problem. The company broke a promise to promote you and also cut your pay because they’ve decided that it saves them money. If they need to lay you off to make their numbers they will, so consider that when this employer talks about “giving back” and “loyalty” they mean a thing you owe them so you’ll work more for less. How can looking out for your own money – i.e. the whole reason you work there – possibly be “a betrayal”? If you stole their proprietary information and sold it to competitors, that would be betrayal. If you find a new job with more money and a better title, you’re making a business decision the same as them.

Alison (Ask A Manager):  Yes! Excellent, excellent. 

And also, re-think your ideas of what you “owe” an employer. This isn’t a marriage, where you’ve taken vows. Here’s what you owe your employer: good, focused work while you’re there; clear communication when there are problems if your employer has a track record of handling that sort of input well, and a reasonable amount of notice when you decide to leave (for most people, that’s two weeks). You do not owe them a commitment to stay for longer than would be in your own interests. I promise you, they will act in their own interests — and that’s as it should be! That’s not, like a sneering commentary on them; it’s just a recognition that this is a business relationship. Each side should treat the other with respect and integrity, but you don’t sacrifice your own interests for theirs, just as they wouldn’t for you. That’s the nature of it! You get to walk away when you want to walk away and when it makes sense for you to walk away. (And it sounds like it’s time to start thinking about doing that.)

Tune in later this week for Part 2 of this conversation and the answers to three more questions. 

 

55 comments
  1. LW2 should also keep in mind that their *next* job’s compensation is likely to be affected by *this* job, given the ubiquity of the “what did you earn at your last job?” question. So this employer is not only stifling LW in the current position, but robbing them of future earnings. If the employer cannot commit to a promotion with a pay increase that makes up for the pay cut and then more on top (so that it would have been an increase even before they cut LW’s pay) LW should jump ship so they can quote the uncut salary and give the unacceptable pay cut as reason for leaving. Otherwise, they may eventually find themselves having to switch jobs just to get back to the pre-cut wage.

    • TootsNYC said:

      I would say the OP should say, “My position tends to pay $X” (with X being the amount she should have earned if she got that promotion.
      Or say, “My salary is $X, though the company has deferred it temporarily.”

    • PollyQ said:

      Fortunately, there’s beginning to be a movement to ban employers from asking what applicants made in their current or previous jobs. 17 states already have some degree of legal prohibition of it.

      • HardlyLovelace said:

        In the meantime, you can deflect the question by quoting your worth as found on Glassdoor for a similar position. I’ve done it once and it worked.

  2. The ultimate team-up of advice-givers!

    I understand the idea of loyalty to a company, especially a small one where you have good rapport with your co-workers. It feels right, and I think we are hardwired to feel loyalty to people we know, which isn’t a bad thing. But loyalty to the people means treating them right; it doesn’t require loyalty to the company (even when the boss is also the owner).

    I’m navigating some of those thoughts/feelings myself right now.

    TRiG.

    • Clorinda said:

      Remember, you’re not working for your boss. You’re working for yourself and your family. Business take advantage of the human affiliation instinct, but the company has zero loyalty to you.

  3. Tina Marie said:

    It may be worth taking the title change without anything else if you’re thinking of leaving. Having a “better” title where you are now may open up opportunities for higher level jobs elsewhere. Your manager may be trying to help you out here by giving you the boost that he can, particularly if he expects you to leave or the company to fold.

    • CenabisBene said:

      This! An old co-worker of mine got a title promotion that included the word “Director” in the new title, while his partner did not. She got a faculty job at a public university in Canada and got him a spousal hire, and his starting salary was close to $10k more than hers, with the explicit reason given that he had previously been a “Director” and she had not and Canadian government salary tables therefore set his starting salary higher.

  4. The dream team Q&A blog post I have been waiting for! Thank you for your words, Jennifer & Alison; your combined point about what someone really owes to their employer resonates strongly with me, and is something I still work to internalize.

  5. Hi I'm New Here said:

    LW 2: Do not accept a promotion in name only. Ask for some kind of compensation, even if it isn’t monetary. I guarantee your employer will increase your workload/responsibilities along with your new title. I also guarantee they will do their best to dodge giving you a raise later if finances improve. In their eyes, there is no incentive since you agreed to do the work for free. Get your compensation in writing — I trusted my former employer to give me my promised raise upon promotion. I got half of it, then put up with a year of hemming and hawing and being passed back and forth between head honchos before one of them admitted the second half wasn’t coming.

    I’m interested to know what that 10 percent cut looks like for the people at the very top of the ladder. It would not surprise me if it doesn’t affect bonuses, stock options and other factors that keep those people relatively wealthy. In my experience, “giving back” is something the folk at the top ask of the little people. “Giving back” doesn’t usually mean raises, bonuses, fair wages or transparency from the top to the bottom.

    All this to say that while your loyalty to this company is laudable and speaks well of you as an individual, do not expect your employer to show an equal amount of loyalty or integrity. Start building your exit strategy. You don’t have to use it, but it’s good to have one just in case. Take the promotion-in-name only if it will benefit you — perhaps as a resume builder. Weigh that against whether it will increase your responsibilities and/or stress levels or impede your ability to find a new job. Do your job thoroughly and well, but don’t sacrifice your health or peace of mind in the name of “doing your part.”

    You’re not a traitor if you leave; your employer will never put you first. You might have a great boss who goes to bat for you — I’ve had those and I’m extremely grateful for them — but your company will keep you only if it makes sense to do so. In which case, leave if it makes sense to do so.

    Best of luck to you, LW2. You’re in a difficult situation, and it’s tough to know the right thing to do. I hope whatever happens is a steppingstone to better things.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      THIS.
      Especially that bit about what the guys at the top get. Across the board cuts invariably affect salaries only. So the people who actually do the work bear the brunt of it because the salary isn’t where most of the head honchos make their money.
      But they act like giving up 10% of their $200K+ is as hard for them as losing 10% of $30K.

      Yeah, I’m cynical.

  6. Nelalvai said:

    Dealing with a very similar situation to #1. My last job definitely would not have been cool about it, and at my new job I’m trying to break the habit of “forgetting” to mention that my dad’s household includes his girlfriend’s husband.
    Just wanna throw out the term metamour exists to refer to one’s partner’s partners. Rolls off the tongue a little easier.
    Good luck with your co-workers, LW!

  7. emmelemm said:

    For #1, I like “Part of the family” for an answer to who Jane is. Probably people who are somewhat versed in non-traditional relationships will pick up what you’re putting down, others will just shrug and/or figure it’s some relationship that takes too many words to explain, like “she’s my half-brother’s step-cousin once removed but for reasons we’re actually really close”, and only the rude people will demand clarification. And if they’re rude, you can just give stonewall them. “She’s someone we consider family. End of.”

  8. I worked for a company that did the “pay freeze for a year, no pay increases” thing and it was a desperation move followed by layoffs a couple years later. It will probably not get any better, and unless things really take off you will probably never see the advancement you were promised. You should feel no guilt at all in searching for a more stable work environment and/or holding you current workplace to its promise (even if delayed) if they want to keep you on.

    • Caitlin Mac said:

      I worked for a company that did a “pay freeze for a year” thing, too. 8+ years later, I ran into their receptionist, who told me that the freeze was still in effect, and some families were having trouble putting food on the table. Several years later, they’d been bought out and no lower-level employees had kept their jobs. Run.

  9. LW2: regarding promises from your company (even in writing) for future benefits or money.
    Be aware that if your company declares bankruptcy, they will likely never pay you anything. If you stay, I’d urge you to insist on benefits that benefit you today and in a way they can’t rescind.

    • canuckmom1 said:

      Absolutely this. Paid time off (taken as you go, not banked) is a good one as it’s no more money out of their pockets than they are already willing to pay. Discounts on products. Access to privileges that already exist e.g., paid parking spots, season’s tickets to sports or theatre events, a better office space. Training or mentoring (although, yes, one might question the value of that given the company’s track record thus far).

      If you take the promotion, commit internally to remaining for six months (unless a viable better option comes up); much less than that won’t really count for much on the job market. If and when you leave, you can then explain to prospective new employers that you are seeking to offer your skills in a more stable employment environment.

  10. I would argue that you owe an employer even less when they try to guilt you into shit like you’ve described, LW #2.

  11. A pox on the very suggestion that workers be obligated to “give back” to their employer. You sell your labor, they buy it. You “give” them more value for your labor than they pay you for it, every day (otherwise they’d fire you in an instant).

  12. Ve said:

    I haaate the concept of “loyalty” in the workplace, especially because employers—oddly enough—never seem to feel pressured to remain “loyal” to their employees. This is not a spouse, family member, or friend that’s going through a rough patch. You’re working there because they pay you. Time to start planning an exit strategy.

  13. lowbudgetcyborg said:

    LW1: In your shoes I would just say Jane is my friend and roommate and leave it at that. Your coworkers don’t need to know all your personal business.

    LW2: I agree with the Captain: look out for your own interests. It won’t hurt to look at (and maybe respond to) some job listings, and get any future promises from your current employer in writing.

    • Polyam person here!

      It sounds like LW1 doesn’t think of Jane as “just” their friend/roommate, or they wouldn’t be asking the question. Saying that the coworkers don’t need to know “all your personal business” is dismissive of polyam relationship and family structures –would you describe Bob mentioning that he got engaged to his boyfriend or Karen talking about her husband’s kids from the previous marriage as “all their personal business”?

      Now, if LW1 is giving lurid details about their (or their boyf, or Jane)’s sex lives, that would be inappropriate for work…just like a cishet in a mono marriage shouldn’t be doing either! But just mentioning that these people exist, using the correct, accurate terms for them is not unduly “personal”.

    • A Silver Spork said:

      Sooooo… do you also think that a monogamously married straight man shouldn’t tell his coworkers “we’re going to spend Thanksgiving with my wife’s parents” because that’s too personal for work?

      I mean, there are people who don’t talk about their personal lives at work whatsoever – I’ve had coworkers I knew for years that might as well have been robots who lived in the spare closet outside working hours, for all I knew about them – but most people will talk about their relationships at work, and generally they don’t go around judging their coworkers for not being so private.

  14. BigDogLittleCat said:

    “I’m also struggling to determine if I owe it to the company.”
    The answer is no, no, you do not.

    If you owed them loyalty, you would know it because they would have *earned* it. Loyalty is a two-way street, or it’s not loyalty.
    I worked for years for a great group of people who earned my loyalty and I cried when I had to leave them. 14 years later, if they ask me to help them out, I’m there. Because they were always there for me and still are.

    The days of owing loyalty to your employer because they are your employer are long gone, done in when companies shed any loyalty to their employees.

  15. Ainuvande said:

    I get where LW#2 is coming from. I tend to develop that kind of loyalty to my workplace. Regardless of what you might think of your coworkers or your direct manager though, this company has not dealt fairly with you, and it sounds like they never have. The real rub is that transitioning jobs gets extra-scary when you’re not making enough money in the first place. Maybe go back to friends and family who are encouraging you (rightly) to run and ask them to provide some support for you to do so?

    But yeah, don’t trust the company to do right by you, and get out of Dodge while the getting is good.

  16. Msconduct said:

    Loyalty be damned. I’m appalled by the company’s suggestion that you should “give back” to it. They’ve been paying you for your labour, not dispensing charity. Also, there are clear markers of the company’s likely financial collapse. I suggest you take the title for your resume and immediately start job hunting.

    • John said:

      Yeah 100%. “Give back”? Give WHAT back? You worked, they paid you for it, end of transaction.

      The actual debt here is the promotion they promised you. If they can come up with something to compensate you, or at least demonstrate good faith, then you should CONSIDER sticking around. It should be something valuable to you and something that actually requires a bit of sacrifice on their part (e.g. flex time, free lunch once a week), which means that a job title increase with no compensation does not count. Words are wind, they need to give you something tangible.

    • neverjaunty said:

      This. “Give back” implies that your employer is GIVING you something, like a gift, when they are actually engaging in a business transaction. Dysfunctional companies try to gaslight employees into thinking otherwise and confusing a job with a social community.

      When you buy a loaf of bread the grocery store doesn’t demand that you pay an extra dollar to the store to “give back” to them.

  17. peeta8 said:

    Great answers & so cool to see you reaming up; you are both the best!

    LW1: I’m polyamorous and don’t think it’s selling me short if my metamours call me “friend” — but in this case I might use “housemate,” and privately add that she’s your metamour only to co-workers you think of as actual friends.

    LW2: time to “give back”?!? No, no, no. You have been giving your labor to the company all along, in exchange for your pay/benefits — not getting handouts. And yes, they will lay you off when it makes business sense to do so. This is a great time to job hunt, because you have a very easy and understandable answer for why you are looking!

    • peeta8 said:

      Ugh, *TEAMING up!

  18. zaracat said:

    #2 This one definitely sounds like a sinking ship and the fact that you’re both junior and a more recent employee does not bode well for your future.

    As other commenters have said, loyalty is a two-way street – one question to ask yourself in the situation of a company (or for that matter anyone with whom you’re in a relationship) wanting to you to “give back” is what the other party has done to build the goodwill they are now attempting to draw on. How were employees treated when times were good? Was the company’s good fortune shared (eg bonuses)? Do they have a culture of being flexible and accommodating with employees in general? And most importantly, does the company have a history of going above and beyond for its employees when *they* are in difficult circumstances?

    • zaracat said:

      Also, I think it’s important not to confuse loyalty to an individual supervisor/manager who may have treated you well with loyalty to the company as a whole. An individual may help look out for your interests and make an otherwise bad situation bearable, but they may not have any power to change the bigger picture, and in the end all that does is keep you in the bad situation longer – sometimes until all the options you could have otherwise explored have been lost.

  19. Hindsight Graduate said:

    LW1, I’m 100% behind asking Jane how she wants to be talked about (if at all). There’s nothing dismissive about using, “friend (with a hidden wink for anyone else who’s polyam)” if that’s comfy for both of you. You don’t have a sense of how much you can trust your coworkers with your emotional safety, and you are under no obligation to explain yourself to anyone if you’re uncomfortable.

    On the other hand, I completely understand if you want to be fully seen as a person in a healthy polyam setup, or to give Jane’s presence in your life a level of recognition beyond, “Oh, she’s my friend.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to follow up with, “He’s Andy’s other partner” instead of, for example, “The three of us are close/She’s important [to Andy and me].” If coworkers start to pry and ask invasive questions, you can be just as *evasive* and deflect/make it clear that they’ve crossed a boundary:

    -“Hey, I just said she lives with us and is important to us. When did I say anything about my relationship/sex life?”
    -“You’ll have to wait until I’m famous enough for the tabloids to find *that* out!”
    -“We have a pet/were thinking about getting a pet. Will you have questions about *their* sexual habits, too?”
    -“Whoa, we’re at work! I don’t discuss details about my boudoir with people who aren’t *invited* into my boudoir.”
    -“We’re all happy living together and are doing just fine, but I’m sure they’ll get a good chuckle out of your *concerns*.”

    Good luck!

  20. AnotherSarah said:

    Nothing to add, just SO HAPPY TO SEE THIS COLLAB THIS MORNING!! It made my day.

    • JenniferP said:

      We’ve got round 2 on Wednesday. 🙂

      • AnotherSarah said:

        WOOOOO this is my dream. I’m happy you had a good bday, and I’m even happier for us!

  21. Violet said:

    LW#2, pay cuts and a halt on promotions are harbingers of layoffs in the not-too-distant future. Maybe it won’t come to that, and if it does you might not be one of the people who get let go (although beware, because layoffs tend to come in waves, so you can escape the first one and be caught by the second or third) but I would still be looking hard for something else, just in case. I don’t want to be a downer, but having seen similar situations play out before, I strongly believe it’s better to be prepared.

  22. ErikAG59 said:

    When I was in LW1’s position, I said “He’s our housemate.” All three of us are men, so that probably deterred nosy questions from people who wouldn’t want to hear about Gay Stuff.

  23. old curmudgeon said:

    Tried posting this over at AAM but the site ate my comment – three times!

    LW2, what you describe is eerily similar to what I experienced about a decade ago. I was on the verge of being promoted into my dream job with my dream employer – the only problem was that the income statements were hemorrhaging red ink, the statement of cash flows was an embarrassment, and the balance sheet was shrinking every month. I knew these things because I was the Assistant Controller, and the (vacant) Controller position is the one they were dangling in front of me.

    The company tried across-the-board pay cuts, layoffs, benefit reductions, eliminated one entire product category, more pay cuts, more layoffs, closed down four units, sold another unit, more pay cuts, more layoffs, and on and on. All the way through, the CEO kept insisting that his perfect ideas would turn things around and bring floods of eager customers back to the door – but his perfect ideas were just retreads of the same tired old strategies he had been following for decades. And – news flash here – retail had changed just a TINY bit over those decades.

    One big tell is to look at who is being laid off. Early on, when the company had around eight marketing managers, they laid off one of them. Which one did they lay off? Why, it was the only one who had experience with digital and social media marketing, of course! (Cue the eye-roll)

    When the CFO, who had been with the company for 30 years, bailed, I decided that was the handwriting on the wall I had been waiting for. I updated my resume and went on an intense job-search, which isn’t what I had expected to do in my mid-50s. It took a while, but I landed a safer, if less exciting, spot, where I plan to remain until I retire.

    The company finally folded about 2 1/2 years after I left, laying off 1,000 people (down from nearly 2,000 a few years earlier). Some had been with the company their entire careers, and were cut loose in their 50s and 60s to navigate a totally unfamiliar job market. One former executive now works for the USPS delivering mail. Another is now a truck driver.

    LW2, if you are under 40 and if you have education in your field, you may be able to successfully navigate an employer’s implosion with minimal impact to you. If you’re over 40, though, and/or if your education is not exactly related to your current field, I’d encourage you to review Alison’s excellent resume advice, and get yours out into circulation. Yesterday if not sooner.

    Good luck.

  24. Carolyn said:

    I’m so glad you got to have such a fabulous trip. It sounds like you got to really feed your soul. Thanks for sharing the fruit of your labors, including this kick-awesome collaborative project, with us. You are so loved.

  25. Liz said:

    LW2: LEAVE NOW!!

    Seriously, you were brought in for less money than you should have been making given that you already had experience. And they are perpetuating this shit situation as long as they can.

    You perform well and produce results! So it’s “Fuck you – Pay Me!” time. Get what you’re worth! There are lots of great workplaces out there (lot of shit ones too). But life is not an endurance contest and neither is your career. There is no prize for sticking out the longest in a shitty situation. And money you earn (and save) now will only help you down the road. That’s not to say that you should always follow the money but generally, shitty pay and lying liars who lie out of their lying lieholes (like your hiring manager or the HR person who dangled this promotion and raise in front of you) are indicative of a generally shitty workplace. A company can luck out and hire young, naive talent so you may have great coworkers and even a great boss. But eventually the shittyness will win out and your great colleagues will leave when they realize the payout ain’t coming.

    And another thing: at the first sign of financial trouble, seriously consider leaving if senior management can’t give you reasons to stay. People with options tend to be the first to ditch a bad situation. So a company is already stressed and now it’s top talent is leaving which just starts the downward spiral. Good companies can have bad times and it can behoove employees to stick out a temporary downturn and “give back” so to speak. But you’ve already given back to a company that hasn’t treated you fairly or well – ever. So cut your losses.

    • sorcyress said:

      Oof. I _love_ “life is not an endurance contest” but boy is it making me Have the Feels. Thank you!

  26. Not My Usual Pseud said:

    LW1: I’ve actually done this dance myself recently, having started at a new job just over a year ago.

    I’m in a polyam marriage and live with two partners and on the same street as another. When I first started I referred to my wife as “my wife,” because it was important to me to flag myself as queer, but wasn’t sure how to talk about or not talk about my other partners.

    A complicating factor for me was that I knew one of my new co-workers previously, and they also know my partners, so only talking about one of them would have felt particularly uncomfortable.

    What ended up working for me was I just started referring to everyone by their names, without giving any defined relationship titles, and let people make whatever assumptions they wanted.

    I discovered that most people aren’t actually hoarding and remembering every personal reference their co-workers make, and if they are confused they tend to assume they’ve misremembered something, or just dismiss it as unimportant.

    I did end up coming out as poly to one co-worker because they’d said some things that made me think they’d be comfortable/familiar with the concept, and they turned out to have already guessed, but otherwise I don’t think anyone else has particularly noticed or if they are confused haven’t been bothered enough to ask.

  27. Ollie said:

    Look at who else is getting their pay cut. I used to work for a very fine company, almost always at the top of the best places to work list. When the recession hit they were hurting. As a result they cut the pay of the front line workers like me 5% and stopped yearly bonuses. But they also cut middle managers pay 10% and upper management 20% including the CEO of the company. That earned my loyalty and I stayed. Eventually things came together and my pay went up again and bonuses were again paid. If they only cut the pay of the front line workers and upper management is not taking a hit as well definitely start looking.

  28. fiberman said:

    “I’m also struggling to determine if I owe it to the company to stay, put in the work, and weather the storm of 2020 for $3,000 less a year than what I was making.”

    Unless you have a contract that specifies that you must work there until X date in order to receive/retain Y consideration (salary, bonus, paid training, etc.), you OWE the company nothing. Period. The company did not do you a favor by employing you – they addressed their needs by paying for your services. As long as you have performed those services and they have compensated you fully, everyone’s obligations have been met.

    The only relevant questions are:
    Do you like this job enough to continue doing it for less pay for an indeterminate period?
    Do you trust the owners to increase your pay to market rate as soon as the company’s earnings increase to their previous levels (not “as soon as they get back on their feet”)?
    Is the market for similar jobs (your professional field in your geographic region) such that you have a good chance of finding a job that pays at least as well as this job used to?

  29. jampersand said:

    LW #2

    Yeah, for a company that makes so much the entry-level salary is $60K, I would not “give back” to them like that. It’d be different at someplace like my partner’s job – it’s a small bookstore and the owner makes what you do. But then, he also doesn’t expect his employees to suffer for the store and would be understanding if they had to leave for money reasons.

    So, yeah, look out for you – this is not a good sign for the company’s viability long-term, the way they framed it seems…kind of toxic, honestly, so unless they’re doing some real moral good in the world that you just want to be a part of, why not look around?

  30. enplaned said:

    Take the promotion, put it on your resume, make discreet enquiries about jobs elsewhere. I’m speaking as someone who was a CFO of a large $1bn+ company – you should not feel guilty at all about this kind of thing. This is not a personal relationship, it is a business relationship. It does not say that they are promising to restore your pay at some future point, or pay back wages (with interest). They’re just cutting wages. They, not you, changed the deal. The economy is good – there are plenty of other jobs out there. Now is the time to look.

    You *always* have the right to look elsewhere, and honestly, probably ought to at least look every couple of years. You especially have the right to look elsewhere in this situation.

  31. LW2: I am assuming you are in the US or another capitalist country. There is no such thing as company loyalty. You cannot “betray” or be “disloyal” to a company. Unless you buy that whole “corporations are people” concept – you owe a company absolutely nothing. Like Alison said: to be a good employee you fulfill your job duties and abide by their policy for leaving. That’s more or less it. Trust. They will fire you as soon as it’s in their best interest. I work at a tiny organization full of people I really like and care about and have been wonderful to me. If a better opportunity came along I would take it in a heartbeat and my lovely employers would be happy for me as long as I don’t screw them over when I go. I hate to sound so dour (Im actually not nearly as anti capitalist as I sound) but this is how our economy works, people who put the needs of the company (in which they are not financially invested) over their own are almost never rewarded. Start looking now for a job – maybe this company will turn around but I’m highly suspect given how manipulative they’re being about asking for these “sacrifices” that I doubt upper management is facing at the same rates (they are still making A LOT more than you and you had to fight not to be totally financially screwed).

  32. Czarnoskrzydła said:

    The whole idea that the employee should ‘give back’ to the company is so toxic! like… give back WHAT exactly? they worked for the pay. They gave their work, time and effort in exchange for money which is, you know, the current capitalistic system. The whole idea that the worker should be thankful that they had the ability to WORK for money is so sick and disturbed! I know this sounds naive but I really think we need to fight against it.

  33. Kayt said:

    I am polyamorous with two steady partners and a third I broke up with last year, and work in the legal field. I will say that the stress of avoiding mentioning my relationships at work was really a hard row to hoe. I worked at a nosy, friendly office where many well-meaning colleagues were quite distraught that I wasn’t yet happily married. I discuss my one partner who I see once a week as my “boyfriend” at work, and I still received a ton of pressure after we’d been together for a year to discuss when we’d get married. Well, my boyfriend already is married, and I am lucky to know his wonderful wife! I said it wasn’t something that was on a soon horizon for me and still got tons of pressure about that. That boyfriend wanted to come to our office Christmas party and we had several tearful conversations where I had to explain the stakes were just too high – if he slipped and mentioned his wife, kids, or other partners, it would almost certainly have had consequences for my possible partnership bid at the firm. I felt horrible about having to hide him, and horrible when another partner and I broke up and I was noticeably sad at work and everyone asked what was up and I had to be vague about why. Two separate legal partners pulled me aside and said it wasn’t appropriate to be secretive about my “family crisis” even though I performed ok at work and didn’t ask for time off or anything, since we were all so close and they deserved to know what was affecting my state of mind. All of which is to say – just not mentioning, or editing, can be insanely stressful in its own rite and the fear of real consequences if you slip is grinding on a daily basis.

    I’m job hunting now and my actual criteria for taking the job is “can I take Boyfriend to the office Christmas party?” There are two situations that can give that an affirmative answer – if the office is a safe and accepting place where queer households of many varieties are represented, or if the office culture is not “warm” in that way that translates to “you will also be penalized at work for not disclosing a lot of personal information and everyone will have Strong Feelings about what constitutes acceptable personal arrangements.” It’s a tough line to walk. All of which is to say – I feel you, LW #2, and I think it’s worth considering whether the discomfort of having to carefully constantly self-edit is worth it.

    Honestly, I got flack at work for living with my longtime best friend and his husband because we are 35 and after they got married everyone was Very Sure that it was high past time we stopped having roommates. Even dodges or neutral wording have a bit of an expiration date in terms of “avoiding social penalties from people who expect you to be on the relationship escalator to a two-person marriage.” It’s a bummer, but I am coming down on the side of “closeting was stressful and I got penalized anyway, might as well be truthful and see if the penalty is comparable.”

    • A Silver Spork said:

      Oh, I am so sorry you had to deal with that, that’s a really crappy position to be in with your nosy workplace. “We deserve the details of your family crisis”?!?! “Why haven’t you made marriage plans after a year”? Aaaaaaaargh!

      I am right there with you in finding that “warm” office cultures often translate to “tell us everything and prepare to be judged for any deviations”. Please, I am here to work, I would not be here if I wasn’t getting a paycheck, I am only interacting with your nosy, heteronormative, overbearing ass because I need to pay rent!

    • JenniferP said:

      I hate that you went thru this, but I love the way you told the story, it’s like watching The Firm and reaffirming the ways that workplaces can mimic cults.

      And thank you for the first-person perspective on the stress and cognitive load of having to hide your important relationships at a workplace where everyone else talks about theirs. It’s motivating to keep working for a world where it is not a big deal. 🙂

  34. Ve said:

    “I feel hesitant because I did really like my job before this happened and felt like I had a career trajectory at this company.”

    Keep in mind that pretty much everyone feels this way about a job before #*$& hits the fan. When starting a new job, we tend to have reasonably positive feelings about it until something happens to convince us otherwise. This incident is that something. Take the new title and go apply for jobs at more stable environments with better salaries.

  35. Danielle said:

    Polyam person here! My partner has another partner, and we all live together, so we have an arrangement kinda like LW 1’s. Everyone in my family has a different approach to the question of openness at work. My metamour has reason to expect he will be fired if he comes out at work, so I am a “family friend” or “housemate” as far as his work relationships are concerned. It’s hard and puts real emotional and logistical stress on all of us to make sure our personal life never overlaps with his professional life. But we all want him to keep this job until he’s ready to leave, so this is something we’re willing to take on. My partner prefers not to discuss her personal life at work at all, so she mentions neither me nor my metamour. For me, the emotional toll of staying in the closet day to day is just too high. I’m chatty at work and I like making small talk about my life. I mention my partner frequently and occasionally I’ll mention my metamour as “my partner’s other partner,” usually with a smile and a quick subject change. I’ve found that most people don’t react. A few folks have paused the conversation to say something affirming, but honestly, it flies over the heads of most people who aren’t accepting or knowledgeable about polyam issues. I think my coworkers really think my spouse has many tennis or business partners. I’ve also made the choice that whatever professional consequences I may experience are worth it, because I truly cannot tolerate being closeted in my day to day life. I was in the closet about my queerness for a long time, and being in the closet about polyam stuff makes me feel that old shame and fear. A workplace where I can’t be moderately open just isn’t a good fit for me. My main approach is to be matter of fact and upbeat whenever I mention my metamour, and to keep the conversation moving so that people will always know their next social cues. Good luck, LW 1! I’m rooting for you. You’re not alone with this.

  36. Fleet said:

    I live with one of my partners and his other other partner. I am also trying to figure out how to talk about this at work.

    For now, I have been referring to my partner’s other partner at work as my housemate. For me, “housemate” feels more honouring of our relationship than “friend”. It’s not about making *her* happy. She is not at all bothered about how I describe her at my workplace. It’s about *me* not wanting to lie about this person in my life. It’s true that she is my friend, but she’s not a buddy I occasionally play poker with. She is my family, and somebody who goes through life’s ups and downs with me.Housemate still doesn’t convey that, but it is the word that I feel comfortable with right now.

    As for being more open in general, I have considered putting up photographs at my desk of the people in my life. Photographs usually naturally lead to questions, and that would be a great way to come out casually. My plan is to simply say, “Oh, we’re polyamorous. This is his other partner.” Or, “that’s my other partner, who I don’t live with.”

    I don’t know what to expect for reactions. However I’m in a job that’s union protected, so I can take my chances.

    If people react with negativity and curiosity, I’ll probably just say something like, “Yeah, it’s pretty common now, and it works well for us.” And then just kind of redirect the conversation if I can. If they react with positivity and curiosity, or with neutral curiosity, I’ll probably also redirect the conversation, but maybe in a more friendly way. Curiosity is not a bad thing, but I also don’t want to be seen as the person who is always talking about polyamory at work. Because, even if I’m only answering questions, it’s easy to be seen that way, and I’d rather not have to go into more detail than most other people do. I want to be able to say the normal things that everybody says, like “we went camping this weekend.” I don’t want to have to explain all the stuff about we’re happy or why we’re polyam, etc. (Like, I don’t go up to monogamous people and say how impressive it is that they’re still together, and that I could never do it, and ask how can they possibly live like this without being unhappy.)

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