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I’m dreadfully bored and depressed in my job.

I work for a big bank as a portfolio manager, and have nothing to do. I tried starting new projects but have been discouraged by management. So I spend my time writing a script and studying but the fact that I have about 10 hours of work a week is killing me.

I can’t quit as I need the salary. The only way out is to get myself sacked, since the legally required pay­-off where I live is huge. This would allow me to take a more interesting job on lower pay. But how do I it? The company is satisfied with my work and colleagues love me.

Portfolio manager, male, 28

LUCY’S ANSWER

You are full of surprises. First I’m surprised that you can do your work quite so quickly. I thought that deciding what to invest in meant doing an open-ended amount of homework.

I’m also surprised to hear that your colleagues like you so much. In my experience, people tend not to be especially keen on their overachieving workmates. If I were sitting next to someone who despatched his work to the bosses’ satisfaction in a couple of hours and then spent the rest of the day writing scripts and studying, I wouldn’t feel too warmly towards him.

And finally I’m surprised that you need so much money. Isn’t the point of portfolio management that you get paid quite a lot for it? Unless you are also overachieving at sowing your seeds and already have four children, then surely you can afford to take a worse paid job?

Despite the above, I’m still prepared to feel sorry for you. Having too little to do is a kind of torture and is far worse than having too much to do. However, trying to get sacked isn’t the option. In most countries, getting fired for doing your work badly – let alone for having your hand in the till or up someone’s skirt – means you don’t get a bean. If you are made redundant you do get a pay-off – but if the bank isn’t trying to lay people off, this may be hard.

The best option is to tell your boss exactly how much spare time you have. If he has any sense he will respond by giving you a lot more to do. Or else he will mark you down as an annoying upstart and will only be too glad to edge you out when the next round of redundancies comes round.

I’m about to turn 30 and have just married my partner of 11 years. We both feel emotionally ready to start a family but having a child in my current job is going to be hard as I work long hours and have a long commute. I work for a male-dominated SME and there is no precedent for working flexibly.

I could look for a job nearer to home, but I love my work and new jobs are scarce. My husband is a civil servant and has brilliant flexible working entitlements, but I would resent it if he took on a strong paternal role and I was the one always out at work keeping the income coming in. How do other women juggle these conflicting demands, emotions and priorities?

Professional, female, 29

LUCY’S ANSWER

The answer is that other women mostly manage with difficulty. In my acquaintance there are mothers who work a lot, who work a little and who don’t work at all. Variously, they have husbands who help out a great deal, who do nothing – or they don’t have husbands at all.

It struck me recently that the happiest are the women who do little or no paid work and concentrate on their children. But then I realised they are the least ambitious and so are likely to be happiest anyway. The next happiest are the ones with successful full-time jobs, who let their husbands and nannies take charge at home.

The least happy are the ones who are both doggedly committed to work and who want to be proper mothers too. Trying to do both usually means the mother will be in tears before bedtime, even if the children are not.

It sounds as if you are in the third, miserable category. You want everything and think there must be a way of ordering your life now to make it possible. It would be better if you let go of this idea now. Go ahead and procreate and then see how things are when the baby is born. You can have no idea now how motherhood will take you. You may find the “male-dominated” business seems less attractive. Or you may find your heart leaps in gratitude when your husband volunteers to spend more time at home.

Whatever you do, you’ll almost certainly feel guilty. Don’t push the guilt away, but welcome it as a self-correcting mechanism. It is a reminder that when work seems overwhelmingly exciting there is someone at home who wants attention. And a reminder, when one has been too tired and distracted to focus on work, that there is a salary being paid that ought to be earned.

At a dinner party last Saturday I was asked by a fellow guest what I did and I said I was an investment banker. I might as well have said I was a paedophile. Suddenly the whole table – all friends of my wife from the art world – turned on me with such venom I was really taken aback. I tried to defend myself by saying that I had nothing to be ashamed of in the work that I do in M&A, but the more I argued the more hostile the other guests became.

Next time this happens – and I fear there will be a next time – should I accept guilt for what isn’t my fault, or should I lie and say I’m a librarian?

Investment banker, male, 42

Lucy’s Answer

I cannot work out if your question is a genuine inquiry about dinner party etiquette or a howl of pain at the unfairness of life.

If it is the first, the answer is simple. There is absolutely no point in trying to convince arty people that you are anything other than the devil; any attempt will make things worse. The complaint against investment bankers is that you have dragged the world into recession through your greed, stupidity and arrogance, and any attempt to say otherwise will enrage them still more.

To avoid further ugly scenes, next time say you work for the government. Which, depending on your bank, may be partly true. If there is a follow-up question (although there probably won’t be) say you work on the financial side. That will shut them up.

The good news is that if you go to dinner parties as infrequently as I do, things may be less intense next time. People do not obsess over the same things indefinitely, or else going out would be so dull no one would bother. Next time the topic will probably have shifted to Madonna’s divorce, and you will be returned to the status you probably always had: smug, boring, philistine, too rich for your own good and an eccentric choice of husband for your nice, arty wife.

The bigger question is, who is right: you or the outraged artists? The answer is neither. You weren’t personally responsible for what has happened, yet neither are you in a good position to claim the high moral ground. M&A is not the most honourable of callings: mostly it just added to leverage and job losses, so to show a bit of humility might have been seemly.

One other thing I would love to have known: what did your arty wife say to you in the car on the way home?

I’m a manager in a trading company. My career has reached a plateau largely owing to my performance in meetings. When I’m with a group of people I find it really hard to express my ideas and get nervous before saying anything. I’m very soft-spoken, and can’t project my voice in teleconferences and have to repeat myself. I usually have good ideas and when I discuss them on a one-on-one basis, people like them. What can I do to overcome my soft voice, project my voice and speak up?

Manager, male, 40

Lucy’s Answer

There is only one solution to your difficulty and that is to force yourself to open your mouth in meetings. If you do this often enough the nerves will eventually go away.

Don’t worry if your ideas refuse to be translated into a stream of compelling or even coherent words: press on. However dismal your performance seems to you, others will be obsessing over what they have to say and will neither notice nor care if your brow looks a little sweaty.

Indeed I suggest that you shift the emphasis away from yourself and on to them. Are they such talented orators? Are their ideas any better than yours?

Once you have assured yourself of their fallibility, I suggest you make yourself invincible by working harder on your own ideas. Spend half an hour before meetings working on one or two simple things that you would like to say. (An unbelievably obvious tip, this, yet almost no one plans in advance what they say at meetings.)

Once you’ve thought of what to say, say it. Easy. Or rather, it isn’t easy, but it does become easy-ish eventually.

You can, of course, get professional help, but I am not sure if I recommend it. On your behalf I have been trawling the web looking for good advice, and the only effect this has had on me is to shake my own hard-won confidence as a public speaker. One tip is to mingle with the audience before a speech – a horrible idea. Another is that you practise in front of a mirror, which I’ve tried and can confirm makes one even more self-conscious than one was feeling already.

I also don’t think you should worry about your quiet voice. I have come across people in senior positions who make a point of talking in a whisper so that everyone has to strain to catch every word.

I am an ambitious woman in my mid-thirties working for a large multinational. My immediate boss is blocking my promotion because he resents me and is threatened by my talents. My strategy has been to find a mentor above him in the hierarchy. This seemed to be working: I have secured a true champion, who has told me repeatedly that I have what it takes to reach the very top. However, recently I’ve started to suspect he may have ulterior motives – he keeps on inviting me out to drinks on my own after work. Now I fear I’ve alienated my boss by going over his head, and risk losing my mentor if I refuse his advances. How do I get out of this tricky situation?

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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