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Heavy Meddle: A New Boss Took Away Her Flexible Schedule

Her manager told her in effect, “Working parents all miss their young kids. Tough cookies.” (Damian Zaleski/Unsplash)
Her manager told her in effect, “Working parents all miss their young kids. Tough cookies.” (Damian Zaleski/Unsplash)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

...

Dear Steve,

How ironic is this? I work for a national news organization that, given this campaign season’s recent emphasis on childcare and workplace flexibility, has just asked the public to send in their relevant experiences.

My dear friend worked for this very organization, and her experience appalled me: She was allowed to work four days a week when her child was very young, but when she was moved to a different department, her new boss — a woman — required her to work five days a week, telling her in effect, “Working parents all miss their young kids. Tough cookies.”

I’d love to call this boss out publicly for hurting both a child and a mother, but I work for a related organization and it could redound badly. How can such a boss be held accountable? Should I send a note to her chief, whom I know, just to let him know what goes on there? Perhaps post on Glass Door or some other website?

Or is this just American Workplace 2016, where we have to accept that consideration for parents and children all depends on the individual boss?

Sincerely,
Working Up a Head of Steam

...

Dear Working,

I hear you. In fact, most of the serious studies given over to the subject of workplace flexibility (i.e. not treating workers like cogs in a giant, stress-producing machine) indicate that businesses that allow parents greater flexibility are rewarded with greater productivity.

But here’s the deal: until such a time as we elect public officials with a greater appreciation for the difficulties of balancing parenting and working — or heck, even a modicum of respect for the idea of workers’ rights — Americans are stuck with workplace protections that are pretty much a laughingstock compared to European countries.

I don’t know the particular policies of the company where your friend works, but I suspect that her boss is under no obligation to grant her subordinates a four-day workweek. Your letter also doesn’t indicate whether this woman had a good reason for insisting your friend come to work five days a week, or whether she’s being unnecessarily inflexible.

I certainly understand your desire to call this woman out, especially given that your news organization is asking for testimonials on this very topic. But as I read it, your company is asking for stories from the “public,” not from its own employees. And certainly not from an employee seeking to advocate for another employee at a “related organization.”

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I’m certainly not trying to give you a hard time, as I agree that American attitudes toward work schedules are rigid, shortsighted, and at times downright pathological.

American attitudes toward work schedules are rigid, shortsighted, and at times downright pathological.

But it seems to me the first step in all this would be to talk to your friend directly. It may be that your best move here is to support her decision to advocate for herself. At the very least, you should find out how she feels about the possibility of you intervening on her behalf. Because you’re not the only one who might suffer blowback from such an intervention. She could wind up with a mighty miffed supervisor.

On the other hand, she might be happy to have you send a note to “the chief.” If that were the case, I would avoid framing your concern in a way that comes off as self-righteous. In my own experience, people don’t respond well to self-righteous. Instead, I’d do some research into workplace flexibility versus productivity, so that you can make the argument less about personal loyalty and more about smart office policy (i.e. a campaign versus a vendetta).

I applaud your concern about this issue. And I share your sense of frustration — and frankly, despair — that American workers are pretty much at the mercy of particular bosses. The history of the labor movement in this country, and the manner in which workers rights have been eroded, is rarely discussed in our political discourse, even though it explains much of what ails us as a nation (income inequality, wage stagnation, insane compensation for CEOs, etc.).

One other thing you might consider is joining one of the various groups that advocates for workplace flexibility. I would also make sure you also inform yourself about the candidates up for election this fall, and vote for those whose policy proposals offer working moms and dads the best shake.

Onward, together,
Steve

Author's note: OK working parents — what say you? My wife thinks I should have written more vigorously about the cruelty of this particular boss. But I didn’t feel like I had enough information about her particular motives to judge them. What do you think? Make your voice heard in the comments section below. And please do send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Headshot of Steve Almond

Steve Almond Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of 12 books. His new book, “Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow,” is about craft, inspiration and the struggle to write.

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