Monthly Archives: May 2009

I am leaving my job after 19 years and taking “early retirement”. My question concerns leaving drinks. What I would like on my last day is just to slip away with no goodbyes and no fuss. However, this is not the done thing, which is to invite the entire office for drinks, put one’s credit card behind the bar and give a gracious speech. Even if I accept that I need to do something like this – although I am far from convinced – do I have to invite everyone? There are several people I will not miss and who I feel no need to socialise with. And just how much money do I have to put aside?
Manager, female, 52

Lucy’s answer

There are four arguments for inviting the whole office out for a drink. It is the done thing. Not doing it can cause offence. You may need to work with these people again, so it’s wise to butter them up. And it will make you feel better to tie up the past 19 years with a pretty bow.

All four arguments are feeble. Leaving drinks may be the done thing, but you don’t have to do it. One of the joys of early retirement is that office conventions need no longer concern you.

Not giving a party won’t cause offence — there are so many leaving dos now that one fewer may be a cause for celebration. Nor will a drinks party help you get work in the future, as 19 years’ experience will surely count for more to former colleagues than a glass of plonk.

The only decent argument is the fourth: leaving parties can make one feel better about going. But if you think buying drinks will make you feel worse, and poorer, then I’m sure you’re right.

A leaving party is a bid for immortality in the minds of one’s colleagues; if you have any colleagues who you care about being immortal to, you should do something, but do it your own way. To have drinks in a nearby pub is a waste of money as your dreary do will merge with everyone else’s. The most memorable leaving party I’ve been to was given by a delightfully eccentric woman who slipped out of the office quietly on her last day, just as you would like to. Three months later, she hired a cinema and subjected chosen colleagues to a three-hour film of Don Giovanni. I will never forget her.

I am a PA to an extremely volatile boss. Over the years I have developed a good working relationship with him – I understand his little ways and work around them. I also have – or had – a good relationship with his wife, with whom I often talk on the phone. The two of us sometimes joke about his lack of organization and about his tendency to forget appointments and then blame someone else. However, since last Monday he has been cold and distant and keeps referring sarcastically to his “famous lack of organisation”. I am certain that his wife has said something to him. Is there anything I can do to rectify the situation?
PA, female, 36

Lucy’s answer

Talking about people behind their backs is never wise. But being wise all the time is dull, and if you work for someone who is volatile and tiresome – as your boss sounds – you clearly need to be able to moan about him from time to time.

The danger is that if you moan to A about B and A suddenly takes it into her head to tell B, then you are in the soup. I’ve been caught out a few times this way, and it is frightfully awkward. The only consolation is that one then marches up to A, gives them a rocket and watches them squirm.

Alas, as the snitch is his wife, you can’t do this. Any attempt to discuss it with her will make it worse.

God knows what was going through her mind at the time. Perhaps she is jealous of you. Or perhaps she is so utterly boiling over with rage against her disorganised husband that, in attacking him, she enlisted your support to underline what a hopeless, pathetic case he is.

Understandably, he is furious to think the two of you are ganging up on him. He will feel roundly humiliated, which means you must not make any attempt to discuss it with him. Even if you apologise, any mention of the incident will remind him of it and increase his humiliation.

He is dealing with this by being a baby, by sulking and making sarcastic asides. The best route for you is to be excessively, exaggeratedly grown up. Do your job fabulously well. Appear oblivious to sulks and comments. If you look neither hurt nor embarrassed by his asides he will desist eventually. These sulks are too tiring to keep up indefinitely if one is not being rewarded with a response.

If he doesn’t come round quickly, you may feel inclined to find a better boss. But it might be easier to stick with this one and find a better confidante instead.

My husband works in M&A at associate level. Lots of his colleagues have been fired, so he now works every day until midnight and often at weekends too. In his little time off, he sleeps, watches TV and sometimes sees a couple of friends for a drink. He started this job because he hoped to become rich, but now it’s clear that he won’t get much, if any, bonus this year. He has become stressed and nervous, he sleeps with his BlackBerry and just keeps on complaining. He wants to look for a new job – but has no idea what he wants to do. I think it’s too risky for him to quit in current times but his job is damaging both of us.
Client advisor, female, 28

Lucy’s answer

I wonder which part of your predicament bothers you most.

Is it that the expected riches have not materialised? Is it the way your husband works the whole time? Is it his incessant complaining? Is it the BlackBerry by the bed? Is it the way he watches telly, sleeps and sees his friends? Or is it that even though he claims to hate his job, he can’t think of anything he’d like better?

I can see that all of these could be annoying – with the possible exception of sleeping, which deserves a little tolerance. If he were my husband, what I would dislike most would be his wanting to leave but being clueless about what to do instead. If he can’t think of alternatives, the endless complaint does not deserve endless sympathy. For now, he is stuck where he is. Unless he has a private fortune – which you imply he hasn’t – it would be madness to quit until he has another job or scheme up his sleeve.
For you, this means finding a way of being less bothered by it all. As far as the money goes, I assume that will get better if he sticks it out. The hours, however, are not likely to improve much. This sort of work demands a lot of time. The BlackBerry beside the bed strikes me as something you should learn to live with: I’ve never known why people make quite such a fuss about this. We all have other distracting things by our beds – books and telephones and newspapers – and so long as we sometimes close them and put them away, it isn’t the end of the world. Having drinks with friends isn’t that bad either: at least he has friends, which is more than many unhappy men do.

The only really troubling thing in this picture is that he never seems to make any time for you. If he isn’t prepared to be nice to you in his spare time, I fear that a change of job may not make things much better.

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.