Monthly Archives: June 2008

I have worked in the City for 20 years, and am increasingly plagued with the idea that I’ve been held back by my integrity. I know this sounds stupid: our bank talks a lot about the importance of integrity, and has even sent all of us on integrity courses. But these are a waste of time – integrity is something you either have or don’t have. What troubles me is that looking around my colleagues I see that it is the selfish people with no backbone who have advanced faster on the career ladder. They appear to feel no guilt about their actions, which translates into them being happier and much better suited to professional life. Please let me know if you think I am going mad. Or is it time for me to get out?

Lucy’s Answer

No, I don’t think you are going mad, though I do think you may be engaging in some perfectly natural post hoc rationalisation. We all tell ourselves comforting stories to explain why we aren’t doing better. The most common story goes: “I’m no good at playing office politics.” Your story is an extreme version of this: “I’m no good at playing the bastard.”

If this is all, there is no reason why you shouldn’t stay in your current job and continue to congratulate yourself on your moral superiority to compensate for your lack of advancement.

However, if instead you are genuinely concerned about the morals of those above you, the problem is more difficult.

For a start you need to be clear about what you mean by a lack of integrity. If your bosses are stealing shareholders’ money, you must either blow the whistle or leave or both. But if they are simply more motivated by self-advancement than by bettering the lot of all mankind, then I’m surprised it has taken you 20 years to work this out. To succeed in the City – or in any business – one needs to want to succeed desperately. And that generally means being more self-regarding than, say, Mother Teresa.

Beyond that, I don’t accept that everyone who does well in the City is particularly horrid. In fact, there is something rather good about having all that competitiveness so explicit, as it means that if people are going to be nasty then they are nasty in a fairly direct way. In my experience a higher percentage of selfish people are to be found in academe, where they fight hard and dirty because the stakes are so low.

Perhaps all you are really saying is that you despise your colleagues or that you are sick of banking. In that case you have reached the end and must go.

One of my team members is very good at what she does and has been rewarded, by me, with promotion and bonuses. There is no doubt in my mind that she deserved this recognition, and I hope that most of her colleagues would agree. But there is another fact: I find her very attractive. Some months ago I made my feelings plain to her, and she politely rebuffed me. Both of us carry on as if nothing had happened, but I think that other members of the team have now cottoned on, and as a result the atmosphere is a little tense. Now, not only is my credibility at risk, but hers is too. What should I do?

Manager, male, 42

Lucy’s Answer

If your difficulty is as you describe, the answer is easy. You should do nothing. An atmosphere that is “a little tense” is hardly a great problem.

But in fact I suspect you are either deluding yourself, or deluding me. On your account, you have a bright and attractive woman on your team, and you – poor fool – have fallen for her and told her so. This is a genuine problem.

Fortunately, though, she didn’t scream sexual harassment but gracefully pushed you away. This, too, could be a problem for you: to be rejected by someone who works for you can’t feel good. But your stated problem makes no sense at all. You say that several months after this awkward exchange other team members have cottoned on. But cottoned on to what?

By your own admission you both have been behaving exactly as before, so there isn’t any reason why they should have. You also say her credibility is at stake. Why? She has behaved incredibly well – she has batted away your advances, so her credibility should be in pretty good shape.

I suspect the reason that the others have got wind of it – and the reason this is still such a problem for you – is that you are still mooching around after her. In which case the problem is less your credibility than your peace of mind. That will be solved only if she moves, or you do.

Unless, of course, something else has happened: maybe she has not been quite so graceful about refusing you. Perhaps she has been regaling the others with stories of your advances, and they have all been laughing at you. Then your credibility really is shot.

The only way to repair it is to stop all leching and keep the stiffest of upper lips. If you behave really well, they’ll lose interest – but it may take a while.

I work for a bank that is going through a period of heavy redundancies. From the cuts made so far it seems that many of the casualties have not been chosen on the basis of ability or cost, but as a result of political horse-trading. I have a three-year record with this bank and am a solid performer, not a star. Losing my job now would be bad timing, to put it mildly – I have a young child, a pregnant wife and an eye-watering mortgage. How can I make sure the axe does not fall on me? Should I attempt to play the sympathy vote with my boss? Or is it better to embark on a shameless bout of self-promotion at the expense of my colleagues?
Analyst, male, 30

Lucy’s Answer

I’m surprised you’ve lasted as well as you have in the City, given the quaintly outdated way in which you describe yourself.

The language of most companies, especially banks, is now based on the notion that everyone is outstanding, even the tea lady. So if you go about saying that you are merely “solid” you are begging to be fired.

You also need to drop the disapproving talk of “shameless self-promotion” and “political horse- trading”, as this is how it works. It is a market and you need to sell yourself, not just when job cuts are in the offing, but all the time.

There are two ways of playing the political game. Which one is right for you depends on your personality. Either you can take the boasting route – that is, every time you do anything good you shove it under your boss’s nostrils. Or you take the sucking-up route and make yourself charming by complimenting him and generally being chummy.

The trouble with both approaches is that they require some natural flair – especially the second. Badly done, sucking up can end up alienating everyone.

I also fear it may be too late to start practising either, both because if you suddenly start behaving differently everyone will think it odd, and because your boss will probably have made his decision already.

If I were you I would do practical things like renegotiate the mortgage, get a lodger and send out your CV. And maybe start wondering if this rough, up-and-down world is really the one you want to be in for ever.

Don’t even think about playing the sympathy card. Talk of your unborn child will make no difference to your boss – it will only make him want to end the interview as soon as possible.

My business partner is an alcoholic. She rings me at all times of night pissed with some stupid idea or complaint about my character. These calls leave me upset for hours but she has forgotten about them in the morning. During the day she is a clever and amusing partner who brings a lot to the business but after her first glass of wine at 6.30pm it all goes out of the window. Last year she quit drinking for a few months and all went well, but now is back on the sauce. If I mention her drinking she gets furious, so it seems less disruptive to say nothing. She owns part of the business, so I cannot fire her, even if I wanted to. What should I do, if anything?

Entrepreneur, male, 46

Lucy’s Answer

Having a little chat with her about her drinking is a waste of time, as you’ve already discovered. She is in the grip of something that she cannot control, so reasonable words will only enrage her and make things worse.

You have a choice. You either find a way of coping with an alcoholic partner or you find a way of getting out.

Which is best depends on you, on her and on the state of your business. Alcoholism gets worse, but it may get worse quite slowly. I am often surprised to come across people who hold down successful jobs and then get drunk as a lord night after night, and keep going like that for years, sometimes for decades.

It may be a long time before she starts ranting at clients or doing things that really hurt the business. In the meantime, if she is essential to you and if the company is doing well it might make sense to stick with it – and her – for now.

In that case, you need to find a way of insulating yourself from the mad, abusive phone calls. The easiest thing would be not to answer when she rings in the evening; but this is so obvious I wonder why you haven’t already done it. Is she exerting some kind of horrible control over you? If she is, you need to get out now.

While you’re right that you can’t fire her, you can tell her that you want out, and she must either buy your share or you buy hers. It is conceivable that this shock will shove her on to the wagon, although I think that unlikely.

This way out for you is going to be messy, expensive and stressful. But it is probably going to end badly anyway – so better to go through it now than to spend a further five or 10 unhappy years with an increasingly drunken partner and go through it all then.

Dear Lucy

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

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.