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Hello, nice readers! Let’s take the intensity down 10,000 notches today.

Hey Cap’t!

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.

Please help!

Sincerely,

Not a Workplace Babysitter

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Dear Captain,

I am desperately in need of some scripts. In November last year, my aunt launched an online women’s magazine. My aunt is a very rich lady, she doesn’t have a job, so she decided to focus on this project. It was a cool idea, based in some feminist principles, so when she asked me if I could translate the articles from our native language to English I was happy to accept the job.

The thing is, I considered it just that- a job. I’m a college senior, I have about a million things to do on any given day, and translating is time-consuming. She doesn’t really see it that way though- she thinks of it more as a “family favor”, doesn’t seem to acknowledge that I have other things to do and gives me ridiculous deadlines. Like, sending me an article at midnight and expecting it to be done the next morning. Or figuring I’d finish a 10 page text in two days or so. We’re close, she knows I have issues with asserting myself (I have BPD and boundaries are a real problem for me), and i have tried mentioning that I can’t really work like that, that she needs to organize things better so I have more time, etc. And she always agrees but then keeps doing it!! It has gotten so bad that I almost feel like she’s pushing my limits, or doing it on purpose because it’s easier for her to impose a ridiculous deadline on me than the people she has writing the articles (herself included).

To top it all of, she doesn’t really pay me… she paid me twice since November. And quite a small amount of money too (I had gotten 300 dollars total for eight months of work now, and what would, by word count, be charged at least ten times as much on a minimal rate). She also likes to try and pin other work on me- illustrations (because she thinks I’m creative!), photos, article writing…I’ve reluctantly done some of it, for no extra money.

She has this plan for me to translate A BOOK during the summer (she already decided that I’ll need about two weeks for that. Two weeks! For a book!) and I feel like I have to say something before I’m expected to slave over that instead of relaxing a bit after graduation. Though I would probably agree to it if I knew I’d get paid a fair amount and have a more realistic time-frame. She’s my aunt, and I don’t want to insult her or seem unappreciative, but I’m getting a bit desperate and I really need to sort this out somehow. Do you have some advice for me?

You don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU think that YOU’RE the unreasonable or unappreciative one?

My sweet summer child, no.

It’s time for a meeting with your Auntie where you do the following things:

  • Present her with an accurate count of how many hours you’ve spent on this project.
  • Invoice her for those hours at a real-world translation rate. All of them. Every single hour and piece of “extra” work.

IF you want to keep working with  her on future projects, you 100% need to create a written agreement that includes, at minimum:

  • A defined scope of work and rates. Translation costs $x, photography & graphic design costs $Y, generating original content costs $z.
  • A budget of hours/week that you will spend on the project.
  • A defined invoicing and payment schedule
  • Guidelines about your working hours, frequency of communications, and turnaround times for work (with a HEFTY rush fee for rushed turnarounds). Set business hours, like, 10 am – 6pm, and after 6pm any emails or requests will be answered tomorrow. Her expectations about turnaround times are completely ridiculous.
  • A contract start date and end date, say, per project or for a period of 1 year. There is always the option to extend or contract for additional work, but by ending the first contract at one year it gives you a chance to renegotiate – raise your rates, re-budget your time.
  • Good starting resources: The Freelancers Union, The Freelancer’s Bible

Here’s a script for starting that conversation:

Auntie, I love working on your projects, but now that we’ve been at this a while, we need to more clearly define the project and my position here.”

If she balks at putting stuff in writing, “Auntie, putting things in writing protects everyone. That way the expectations are clear. I really can’t keep working without a contract.

If she suggests that you are ungrateful or suggest AT ALL that your rates are too high or that your totally 100% reasonable requests are in any way unreasonable, BAIL FOREVER. Literally, “Okay, Auntie, I understand if that won’t work for you, good luck finding a professional to help you, I’ll happily transfer all the files I have over to you and that person”(You will transfer them…as soon as she pays your entire invoice).

Other scripts, for the day-to-day times when she agrees to something and then tries to bulldoze you:

Sorry, that won’t work for me. I can have it for you by ____.” Then stick to that deadline. If she’s unhappy, she can hire someone else.

If that feels mean or like you’re the one introducing conflict to the situation, try to think of it as educating her. In my experience as a freelancer, a lot* of (rich) people like to start businesses without really knowing what is entailed. They want the title of “Editor in Chief” or CEO without spending the money to pay professionals or do the work to set up professional practices, and they are used to getting their way. It can create a toxic environment very quickly if it’s not checked. If she’s not purposely taking advantage of you (doubtful, but let’s do a thought experiment), she needs to know the actual costs of translation, graphic design, and editorial services so that she can make good decisions and keep her business viable. Your labor is valuable and essential to what she’s doing, so, she needs to pay you for that. Her money isn’t a gift or a treat or a generous indulgence she’s bestowing on you, it’s payment for your work.

She might try dangling the idea of money or a promotion to a full-time job down the road to get out of paying now. If she sees this as a joint project that you are creating together that she wants you to take over in the future, then, cool, she should treat (& pay) you like a creative partner. But that doesn’t mean she’s off the hook for the work you’re already doing. Your labor is a routine business cost. She better pay you, and if she won’t, find another job that will pay you, and let her figure her own shit out on the free market.

In Solidarity!!!

*#notall, of course, but one way to determine the difference is “Can I have an honest conversation about pay, hours, and other business matters with this person?”

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

This is a weird problem, but in my workplace, there’s an office phone that’s shared by everyone–though usually it comes down to me and one other coworker who spend the most time in this area. She’s started leaving these obscenely thick, full-facial-imprint layers of makeup on the phone. I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t appreciate getting it all over my sleeves or my face if I absentmindedly reach over to answer the phone–plus, you usually can’t see the layer of makeup until you’ve picked up the receiver and it’s too late. The backside of the phone looks fine–it’s the part that’s actually in contact with your face that’s a disaster zone. I’ve been just wiping the phone off every so often, but it’s only gotten worse, and frankly, I’m tired of cleaning up after her facial mess. It’s just gross.

I tried to be tactful and casually ask if she’d spilled something on the phone, but I’m pretty sure she had no idea what I was talking about and may have come to the conclusion that someone had gotten Cheeto dust on the receiver. At that point, I had to bail out of the conversation because I was having trouble keeping a straight face. I’ve talked to other coworkers, but no one seems to know how to deal with her. She’s got a history of overreacting to the smallest things, and we’re trying to do this without upsetting her. Help!

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Hello Captain!

My issue feels so petty, but it’s seriously giving me anxiety…

I am fairly close friends with an older male coworker. He is very into bike riding, and over the years has tried to get me on board with his hobby. I’ve been fairly straightforward in telling him that it really isn’t my thing, and reaffirmed this just a few weeks ago when we were out together. Coincidentally, he was leaving the next day for a big cycling trip. While he was gone he texted to ask me what my hat size was and, thinking nothing of it, I replied.

I came in to work the next week to find, of all things, a brand new bike helmet on my chair. WTF?! I thanked him for it, but reiterated that I was making no promises as far as using it, but joked it would come in handy if they sky fell in at work. He responded that he understood, and then immediately asked it the helmet fit. I ignored the question.

Then a few days later he shows up in my office, and tells me that we’re picking a night after work for a short, 30 minute ride. I commented that he really doesn’t listen, and he laughed.

I DON’T WANT TO RIDE BIKES!
I DON’T WANT A BIKE HELMET!
I TOLD HIM I DON’T WANT TO RIDE BIKES!

I am really frustrated and angry, and don’t appreciate being strong armed into doing something I very clearly said I don’t want to do. This guy is a good friend, and I don’t want to make him feel bad, but at the same time I am (maybe unreasonably) miffed about this. I’ve been getting way better at saying no and pushing back, but saying no and pushing back is just not working here. I don’t know if this matters at all, but he is older and married, and I am a younger married female- our relationship has always been platonic, but he has put a toe over the line a few times with regard to references to my looks, and comments about marrying me if he were younger.

Please help.

Thanks in advance!
No Means No

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I participate in a small sport, with several branches. I am both a referee and a ‘player’ in this sport. (If you see any inadvertent clues as to the sport, please could you edit them out?)

At the club where I practice, lots of people know that I referee, and often ask me questions about the rules. I don’t mind these questions, and enjoy answering them, it’s part of why I love being a referee, and part of what has helped me become one of the country’s (UK) most senior referees in one branch of the sport.

In one of the smaller branches, I’m actually getting quite good – in fact I’ll be representing my country at a world championships later this year. This is my first time at an international event, and unsurprisingly, I have ramped up my practice.

My problem is when I have gone to the club to practice, and other club members start asking me questions. It generally starts out OK with just one question, but that inevitably turns into “but what if [related but slightly different situation]?”.

How can I politely let people know that they have crossed the line from a welcome short question and answer into an imposition? Especially when the line is crossed quite quickly. I want to end the conversation as soon as possible while still making it clear I’d be happy to answer short questions in future? This is complicated slightly by the fact that I’m an introvert with extreme shyness, and anxiety. And having to tell someone no feels like confrontation to me and brings my anxiety right up! Also, these people are my friends, and answering questions starts off as a nice way to interact with people I like.

On a slightly extended note (feel free to edit this out if you prefer), an example was this weekend. I was pretty tired after going for a run first thing, and then spending all morning at practice. I had broken for lunch and was making a cup of tea in the clubhouse. A Lady from the club started asking me questions about the new dress code, and I replied with a sensible answer. But she kept asking the same question “could I wear this, could I wear that”. I felt like I had to keep answering. I did walk away, when I was too tired to keep standing, and had actually gone and sat down on the other side of the clubhouse but she followed me and started asking what local competitions would be suitable for her daughter. I said outright several times that I didn’t know about junior competitions, but she kept on asking and asking and asking. Captain, I was soooo tired, and this was my lunch break! I just wanted her to go away. This is an extreme example, as the lady in question doesn’t pick up on social cues very well, so I might need something more pointed for her.

Thank you for your lovely blog, I have really enjoyed reading since I discovered it a few weeks ago.

All the best,
Trying to Practice (she/her pronouns)

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Hi Captain,

So, I’ve been attending a salsa dance class the last few months. The class is structured so that you are welcome to come as a single person, and the participants shuffle through partners throughout the class. It’s a lot of fun and the men are generally pretty respectful and appropriate.

My problem is that a young man has been attending the last two weeks, and while he is very polite, his body odor is HORRENDOUS. I really cannot overstate how bad it is. By the middle of class he is sweating profusely, such that there is perspiration dripping off of his nose, and yes, onto his dancing partners (or at least *this* dancing partner, which is my main concern).

I really don’t want dance with him, but I don’t know how to refuse or what to do about it without being rude. I can totally see his attendance in this class as a suggested “assignment” from a therapist or other advice giver (such as yourself!) to get out there and be around people, even if it’s something he’s not comfortable doing.

Do you have any scripts that I can use? I do want to be kind.

~Dreading Dance Class

(She/her pronouns)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Almost a year and a half ago, while I was in tenuous material circumstances myself, my partner of less than a year got sick. One minute they were having a biopsy and the next minute they were fresh out of what turned out to be cancer surgery. Shocked, I didn’t have the presence of mind to prevent post-surgery on my couch from turning into living on my couch. 

Frustrated with my overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of epic shitty circumstances (which also later turned out to include partner’s mental health crash-and-burn), and failing to get caretaking support from their family, my community, and whatever social safety net ostensibly exists for someone like my now-ex,I started aggressively pursuing work. 

I struck a deal with my friend to  help with their small online business. Working for them for the past almost year has allowed me not only to  address my recent and childhood traumas in therapy, but also to enroll in a course to learn their trade.

They offered me partnership, I took it. We’ve been splitting the revenues, but have yet to finalize our partnership agreement.

So here is the deal: my prospective business partner also struggles with chronic and mental illness. Sometimes getting them to do any work even on a flexible timeframe is like pulling teeth. Right now, the money coming in is by-and-large from a combo of their old work and my current work.

I am torn.

They extended a hand to me when I desperately needed it, and they really did help give me space to heal. Having experienced mental illness and loved someone who has mental illness, I have a hard time writing them off just because they’re difficult to work with. They were so patient with me when there were some days, and some weeks, when I just couldn’t work.

On the other hand, I *did* do a lot of work. I went to therapy, I got my ex off my couch, I revived their business, and I invested in professional development education which will empower me, if I choose, to work on my own. After everything I just went through, and from where I stand now, I am seriously balking at formalizing my commitment to this person who is reliably unreliable about doing anything besides paying me.

What should I do? 

So Burnt Out (She)

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