Monthly Archives: March 2008

I have been a fund manager for 10 years and currently work for a large UK institution. The job is great: flexible and well-paid. My problem is that I genuinely don’t believe it is possible to do this job – outperforming other fund managers and equity indices – with any consistency. I believe the industry is based on the lie that fund managers add value through skill, rather than luck. This makes it hard for me to keep motivated. Should I move – even though I can’t think of anything else I want to do – or should I accept the idea that work is not meant to be meaningful? I am married, but have no children.
Fund manager, male, 34

I am about to return from maternity leave after having my second child. I love my current job but it is very demanding. I have suggested to my boss that I do it as a job share, and have even found a woman who might split it. He claims the job needs to be done by one person and has offered me something else part-time that I see as a step down. I work for a Fortune 500 company that talks a lot about work-life balance, and HR has told me that the company values part-time employees. But I look around the organisation and see no female role models on job shares. Am I right to go on making a fuss?
Manager, female, 35

Lucy’s Answer

Don’t go on making a fuss. You won’t win, and I’m not even sure that you have right on your side.

You say your boss “claims” the job can’t be done as a job share – the implication being that he is a bigoted enemy of the working mother.

Depending on what the job is, he may well be justified. Most demanding managerial jobs in big companies tend to be done better by one person than two. This is why there are no senior “role models” in your company on job shares. Such arrangements can be fine at junior levels, and can sometimes work in craft jobs such as journalism. Sometimes senior jobs are shared in the public and voluntary sectors, but even there the record is patchy.

So, don’t protest, and drop your assumption that your manager is against you. In fact, it sounds as if he is being quite reasonable in offering you something else part time – which I suggest you take like a shot. Presumably the rate of pay will stay the same and, if the work is a bit less stressful than before, you should see that as a blessing. Looking after a baby and a small child is quite stressful too.

By far the most horrible thing about “the mommy track” is its name. Otherwise it is quite a nice place to be. All the surveys find that the happiest workers are part-time mothers – which I suspect is partly because they are not investing their entire selves in their work, and partly because the working part of the week is a respite for the body and a treat for the mind after the demands of the domestic part.

I don’t want to depress you further, but as you are 35 you have nearly three decades of working life ahead of you – which is plenty of time to go back to full-time work, if that is what you want.

I work on a charity committee with a man who has been in the news because the financial institution that he founded and owns has lost a breathtakingly large amount of money. We have a board meeting next week, and I was wondering what to do. Should I send him a card? If so, what do I write on it? I can’t really say: “So very sorry that you’ve lost several billion dollars.” Or can I? Or do I not mention it at all and next week act as if nothing has happened? Given the scale of it, wouldn’t that look rather odd? He is a very direct person, and I respect him but am also quite frightened of him. What is the form on these occasions?

Charity director, female, 52

Lucy’s Answer

In the old days the etiquette was clear. Losing money was a disgrace. This man would have been off your committee in a trice and if your paths had ever crossed again you would have cold-shouldered him. When Anthony Trollope’s villain Augustus Melmotte loses his fortune he is so traumatised by the shame that is bound to follow that taking his own life seems an easier way out.

By contrast, losing one’s money today is perfectly socially acceptable. It is quite possible to be on the front page of the newspapers for mislaying billions of pounds and then a few years later to be hailed as a financial wizard once again. Look at John Meriwether: one minute he was presiding over the collapse of LTCM, the next he has re-established himself as a hedge fund god.

This means that you need feel no embarrassment or dismay about the financial predicament of your committee member. If you want to be nice to him you should show no discomfort and indeed pretend that it is fairly normal to lose so much. Don’t dream of showing sympathy: alpha males tend not to want the pity of women who run charities.

Don’t think of sending a card. This isn’t a bereavement. Hallmark hasn’t yet made “heartfelt condolences on your financial ruin” cards – for a reason. Financial collapse isn’t really a greetings-card occasion.

If I were you I would briefly acknowledge it when he turns up. Say something like: “Thanks for coming today. I gather you have one or two other little things going on at the moment.” And hope he has the good grace to laugh.

Dear Lucy

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Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.

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