Monthly Archives: March 2009

Three years ago I quit my job as a manager and have thoroughly enjoyed pursuing more meaningful activities (gardening, fishing, writing, etc). Concerned that my elysian existence is not sustainable, I went to see a recruitment agency and explained the whats, whys and wherefores of my past three years. He looked as if I had just been sick over his shoes. I fear any future employer would react similarly. How should I present my current circumstances to best effect at the next interview?

Unemployed, male, 41

Lucy’s answer

Your timing is doubly bad. Not only are you competing with armies of the newly unemployed, who have not spent three years putting maggots on the end of a fishing line, but employers are playing very safe indeed. They will look on your CV with even greater suspicion than usual and worry that your experience is out of date. They will fret that if you got sick of working last time, you might do so again. Above all, they will want to cover their backs by hiring a person who may not be the brightest, but is the safest.

This means you must lie. I’m not suggesting big lies, such as claiming to have held jobs you did not or have qualifications you do not. Instead I suggest extreme spin is in order. Most CVs are built on this, with oafs routinely claiming to have unrivalled leadership skills or a passion for opera, when they like America’s Next Top Model. You must talk as positively as you can about your three years, building up your story to assuage their fears and making clear that you are now all the more committed to 9-to-5 as a result of your rest from it, and that you have kept up with changes in your industry.

However, even with a more plausible CV you are going to have to tolerate a lot of people being sick on your shoes before you strike lucky and land a job – which, if you persevere, you will do eventually, especially if you are not fussy about the job itself.

There are two bits of good news. The first is that the things you like to do are cheap, so you won’t have to earn a lot to support your Arcadian existence on the side.

The better news is that you enjoy not working. Most people think they will love it, but find they hate it. This means you can soften the hard weeks and months you will spend opening rejection letters with some soothing weeding and pruning, enjoying the evenings as they get longer and protecting your soul from destruction.

My boss has instructed me to distribute misleading information to all employees in my name. He is the company president and majority owner and what he says goes. I guess it’s his right to feed the staff balderdash and, while I don’t like it, I can tolerate it. Having it go out with my name attached is what bothers me. I’ve got a dependent wife and two kids, and not enough money in the bank to feel comfortable losing my job over it. What to do?

Manager, male, 38

Lucy’s answer

It depends on what he has asked you to write. Clearly, if it is illegal you must refuse. If it is merely the sort of averagely misleading balderdash that almost every corporate memo is stuffed with, I don’t know why you are making such a fuss. Working life involves doing all sorts of things that are mildly distasteful; if we queried everything that struck us as less than perfectly straight, working life would grind to a halt.

In any case, employees generally don’t bother to read the management drivel that lands in their in-boxes, and when they do they hardly ever take it seriously.

However, I suspect from the tone of your message you have been asked to do something worse than put your name on distorted guff, and to do something you find morally objectionable. In that case you must say something to your boss. I don’t envy you this discussion, as it sounds as if his management style is not strong on listening. However, autocrats are sometimes so surprised when someone dares to stand up to them that they can be shocked into taking note. I know a man who dared to say No to his famously tyrannical boss Robert Maxwell. The tyrant threw a tantrum, but then backed down.

Even if your boss refuses to yield, he cannot fire you on the spot. And if you end up capitulating, all will not have been lost. You will have registered a protest and made it harder for him to redouble his lies next time.

I am, by the way, slightly troubled by your obsession over whose name is on the memo. If you have drafted it or are involved in the implementation of the plan, you are implicated either way. His name, your name: you will be in it together.

I work for a small consultancy and over the past couple of years have fallen in love with someone who is senior to me. We are close friends and socialise quite a lot together. Although I have never said anything, I think she knows how I feel and sometimes I get some really mixed signals from her that may indicate she feels something other than friendship. The rational part of my brain has thought of resigning so that her position is not compromised by the way I feel (which has been remarked on by some of my colleagues). The fantastical side of my brain hopes that if I resigned, I’d then be able to ask her out properly. Any suggestions?
Consultant, male, 28

Lucy’s answer

If you were a suitor in a fairy tale who had been set three tests to prove your love, you would certainly win your prize.

You have loved this princess doggedly for two years. You are so worried about protecting her reputation that you are ready to give up your job in the deepest recession of your lifetime. And your most secret fantasy is not of ravishing her but of simply being able to ask her out.

One doesn’t get much more chivalrous than that.

Alas, this isn’t a fairy tale; it is a common tale of office romance in which the doling out of prizes goes according to harsher rules.

Your colleagues have noticed your devotion and are almost certainly laughing at you behind your back.

What interests me more, though, is her reaction. Most women in offices find the doggy infatuation of male colleagues whom they do not desire irritating at best, and repulsive at worst.

The fact that she is not put off by your attentions and is even prepared to favour you as a friend could mean that she is emotionally warped and gets a thrill out of being loved in vain by underlings.

Or it could mean she is in love with you too.

The only way to find out is to ask her. The good news is that there is absolutely no need to give up your job in order to do this. Half the population (including me, as it happens) meets their husband or wife at work and, as long as she isn’t your direct boss and as long as you don’t behave in a vulgar manner in the office, there is no reason you should not go out together.

The only problem is what will happen if she says No. You will lose your special ambiguous friendship with her, and going to work with a broken heart may make the office a grim place for a while.

Last October I was made redundant and set up a business as a hotel agent working from home. I am finding it pretty soul destroying working alone: some days I find it easy to sit down and “get on with it” but on other days I will think of any excuse not to do so – and will suddenly realise I urgently need to do some laundry. How can I motivate myself during the “off days” and discipline myself to make the most of my time, in order to try to establish and grow my new business? None of my friends or family are remotely interested in business, so I can’t talk to them about it. And I’ve bored my boyfriend with it to such an extent that he’s now history.

Director, female, 42

Lucy’s answer

Workers naturally come in two types: wage slaves and sole traders. I am most decidedly a wage slave, and it sounds as if you are too.

We find working from home hell. As you rightly say, there are two particularly hellish things about it: the loneliness and the lack of structure.

The only way I can cope at home is to treat myself like a five-year-old and play at make-believe offices. First, I always get out of my pyjamas before going into my study. Then I set myself office hours and create a system of targets, with rewards and punishments. When I have written 1,000 words I can do the laundry. When I have made three difficult phone calls I can go shopping.

The artist Magritte took this game further still. He used to put on his pin-striped suit and bowler hat every morning, kiss his wife goodbye and walk around the block a few times before arriving back at home, ready for a productive day at the easel.

If you can find the right structure, working from home can be efficient, as up to 80 per cent of the day in the office is frittered away in meetings.
I know I should be urging you to network to combat the aching loneliness, but the very word fills me with gloom. Instead I suggest having lunch with friends, although this isn’t really the answer if what you want is people around while you work. You could rent office space, but if that is too expensive I suggest either the library (if you like quiet) or a café (if you like noise).

Finally, your ex-boyfriend. As you have discovered, most boyfriends have a finite appetite for stories about being a hotel agent. Find one who is a hotel agent himself and who wants to merge his agency with yours. Hey presto: all problems solved.

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.

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