Updated on 10.02.09

Money Bullies

Trent Hamm

When I was in seventh grade, a bunch of twelfth graders grabbed me one day. They tossed me in a trash can, popped a lid on it, then rolled the can (with me and some trash inside) out into the middle of the school’s parking lot. They then administered some kicks to the can and left me there.

I crawled out as they were laughing and high-fiving each other, grinned, shrugged it off, and went on about my business. It was the right attitude to take. A few other seventh graders provided an enormous reaction to the situation – telling the principal, throwing fits, challenging the much older kids to fights. Those reactionary kids were subjected to ever-escalating forms of bullying and hazing, while the ones who just shrugged it off were at worst ignored and at best given an occasional positive recognition from the much older kids.

Now that we’re all adults, we might think that such bullying has been left behind. This is playground fodder, after all – the nonsense and torments of high school is in the past for most of us, right?

The truth is that even as adults, we’re subjected to bullying in various, more subtle ways – and our reactions to that bullying often determines our futures.

Don’t believe me? Take these ideas into account.

Advertising is a form of bullying. The purpose of an ad is to make you somehow feel less adequate if you don’t have the product they’re pitching. In essence, it’s psychological bullying – the point is to make you feel inadequate while the people who have the product are superior to you.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is a form of bullying. Again, when your peers have certain status objects, these objects can subtly make you feel jealous and make you feel less adequate than you once did. They have a nice new car and you do not – why not? Again, when you buy into the “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset, you’re agreeing to feel superior when you have things they do not and inferior when they have things you do not – mutual bullying.

A boss like Bill Lumbergh, forcing you to work on Saturday and Sunday, is a bully. He’s a bully because he has power over your freedom and he knows it. Such a boss knows that you’re financially reliant on the job you have and that your situation in life, if you were to be fired, would be disastrous. So he uses that power like a club to beat you into submission and to make you give more and more of your time and life energy to the organization.

Fortunately, we have weapons that we can use to fight against financial bullying.

The biggest tool is an appropriate sense of “enough.” You don’t need more things. You don’t need better things. If you’re reading this, in all likelihood, you already have abundance in life. Sure, it’s fine to have some desires, but those things are just that – desires. They don’t define who you are and they aren’t a requirement for living. You already have enough.

Another tool is self-confidence. You don’t need products to make yourself worthwhile – you already are worthwhile. You’re surrounded by people who care about you. You have countless opportunities to do many, many things every day to make the world a better place.

Yet another tool is financial independence. If you’ve been careful with your spending and put yourself in a position so that if you did lose a job it would not be the end of your world, then you’ve got a great deal of financial independence. You can’t be beaten down due to your “need” of a salary any longer, which gives you the freedom to take risks at work and explore new potential areas of employment without panicking or being afraid.

In the end, the solution to bullying is up to you. Do you choose to let the world tell you what to do? Or do you choose to walk your own path with your head held high?

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  1. Trent, this is a terrific rant about money bullying. Nice writing!

    John DeFlumeri Jr.

  2. I see the the workplace bullying all the time. No one ever tells you that you have to work a weekend; it’s just sort of ingrained into the culture of the business. You’re simply handed responsibilities, and if one of them happens to be handed to you on Friday and needs to be dealt with by Monday, well, you’re working the weekend.

    I see a lot of my colleagues perfectly happy to do this because I think they depend on that paycheck more than I would be comfortable with. We’re really slow in the construction industry right now and everyone is afraid they’ll lose their job, so they’ll do whatever they have to to keep it.

    On the other hand, I can’t understand this mentality. I think I have gone along with it up till now just because I want to fit in. I’ve been a diligent saver and if I were to get fired for refusing to work a weekend, I know I’d be fine.

    Yet I continue to do what’s required of me because I’m not ready yet emotionally to make the change, and I think that’s the biggest part.

    Maybe I’m just bitter because I had to work yesterday :)

  3. Manshu says:

    Another great post that puts in perspective the psychological aspects of dealing with money.

    The Joneses part is something that I deal with a lot and has probably been exacerbated with seeing friends on Facebook and what they are up to and pictures of new cars, holidays etc. Because of these things it becomes that much harder to deal with.

  4. Shadox says:

    Not every boss who asks you to work a weekend here and there is a bully. Sometimes it’s just necessary. The measure of a bullying boss would be one who asks for you to be flexible on your weekends, but then is strict with you on when you ask for flexibility during the work week.

  5. Paula says:

    Interesting post! I also have experienced work place bullying. I work in a group practice of ophthalmologists. Three years ago, I decided to change specialties and work with a different doc. Thats when I noticed the work place bullying.

    The staff there was very insistent on doing things a certain way, as it had been done for years. I have to work a Saturday every few months so we can see post op patients, which doesn’t sound too bad, but totally wrecks your morning and I have to find someone to watch my special needs son during that time (no daycare on Saturdays!). Also, up until recently, we bought lunch for birthday staff and gave money in the office pool for gift certificates/presents. Sometimes, we would have several birthdays in a month, so this was a serious cash drain for me. (I am so glad that the economy changed this tradition, and now we just get take out for lunch and pool our money for the birthday person to get a free lunch.)

    What I particularly dread are the holidays at work. Every year, we have a Christmas dinner out with staff and doctors. We eat at a nice restaurant (thank goodness the company pays for the meal!), but then we have the gift exchange after. Sounds nice, and it is, but it has become a gift card exchange! No one wants actual gifts. They prefer to exchange gift cards from places like LL Bean (we live in Maine so this is a popular one!) and area restaurants and salons (I work with all women, with a couple of male docs). It is supposed to be anonymous who gave what, but they usually match the gift to the gift-giver by the end of the night! So, this becomes a “keeping up with the Jones’s” moment for many of us. One senior staff member who wasn’t a fan of the gift exchange used to give donations to charity or gifts like slippers. These were highly unpopular and when she left a couple of years ago, this was talked about so much that no one dares to give these kind of gifts!

  6. Trent–This is one of your most insightful posts. I’ve never thought about being bullied in regard to money, at least not systematically in the way you’ve layed it out, but it seems irrefutable.

    I think self confidence is the main issue. Bullying is most effective when it’s lacking, and that’s why advertising and keeping up with the Joneses are so effective.

    The important thing is to break out of the mindset that we are what we own; as long as we carry that thinking, someone else will always have a tight hold on how we live and even how highly we regard ourselves.

    Thanks for the post!

  7. Amateur says:

    I’m sure most people experienced this in their younger years when splitting a group tab with friends/acquaintances were things are div’d up unevenly. Those who order less or do not drink end up footing the parts of the bill where others do. Some people do not say anything, but some people are brave enough to speak up against stuff like that.

    I’ve even heard stories where some people knowingly would try to snag bits off the other’s plates at higher priced restaurants, almost family style but order very little themselves. Some of these things are borderline bizarre but narrows down to how some people view money.

  8. Gabriel says:

    The thing I hate most about advertising is how much is directed at children, and how many parents let it happen.

  9. Vanessa says:

    Fantastic article – I really admire how you can put a bullying experience into perspective as an adult and it gives us all something to think about. I think that our childhood experiences of bullying can also influence our behavior as bullied adults – buying items sales clerks push at us, for instance, just to feel empowered as we don’t know how to stay no to them.

    Keep up the fantastic work!!

  10. guinness416 says:

    Helps to recognize when you’re being bullied and when you’re being a doormat, too. I mean, seriously, if you’re consistently working 7-day weeks for a tyrant or your friends are ripping you off every time go to dinner with them at some point you’ve got to push back.

  11. craig says:

    Hi Trent

    Great post. I’m wondering about your decision to list advertising as a form of bullying in light of the fact that you have (very limited) ads on this site. Do you think there is a level at which it isn’t bullying?

    For me, I hate most advertising, and almost never give out personal information. However, when I go into the local Woodcraft woodworking store, I gladly give them my phone number and address because I like their catalog and get great coupons from them (which I use obsessively).

    When is advertising not bullying?

    Keep up the great work.


  12. Jak says:

    Only poorly targeted advertising bullies. When thought is put into the target audience it should come across as educational. A good example is craig’s Woodcraft shop.

    Companies that don’t put that research and thought into the target are wasting money and even worse, sometimes creating a negative view of the brand.

    It should be noted I do work in advertising and have been a reader since 2005. (Has it been that long?-wow)

  13. Johanna says:

    Advertising that merely conveys information about a product or merchant is not bullying. Advertising that tries to convey a product or merchant to be something it’s not is bullying. “Toothpaste XYZ has been reformulated to make your teeth whiter” is not bullying. “People whose teeth are not perfectly white are ugly, unlovable, and unemployable. Your friends and coworkers are talking about your ugly teeth behind your back, and your girlfriend is seriously thinking about dumping you for your best friend. If only you used toothpaste XYZ, you wouldn’t have to worry about these things” – now, that’s bullying.

    Of course, there’s a whole continuum between these two extremes. But I find that a lot of advertising – TV commercials especially – fall toward the bullying end of the spectrum. And even though I like to think of myself as smart enough not to fall for tactics like that (and I guess I am, in the sense that I don’t actually buy the products that advertise that way), I find that I really do feel worse about myself when I watch commercial TV, and I think the ads have a lot to do with that.

  14. Michele says:

    your personal experience in school may have been unique, but bullying in schools needs to be addressed the first time and every time and NOT TOLERATED. You give power to bullies if you allow them to even have the opportunity to gloat. These people need help/correction so they don’t continue to do this to others. You must tell someone and take some action. Do you really want your kid at school to get ‘positive recognition’ from rotten kids who don’t think twice about hurting or humiliating another child and laughing about it?
    Same thing in adult life- if you just shrug it off and walk away, bullies continue to victimize SOMEONE. Do you want it to be your kid or your wife next time? We have to take action to stop it- because most bullies become criminals. No one stopped their behavior, so they think it’s condoned.
    If you percieve that an ad is bullying, you have the power to take action. Write or email the company and tell them what is offensive. If your boss is a jerk, you need to let someone know, even your boss, that their behavior is unacceptable. If you compromise your own morals to hang onto a job, what does that say about you?
    Sorry, this struck a chord with me and I do not accept that ignoring bullying in any form is every acceptable.
    If you think and ad is

  15. Courtney says:

    I’m sorry, but I have to flat-out disagree with this one. Violence is never OK. It’s never OK to “shrug it off”. Doing so simply perpetuates a culture where victimizing lower ranked individuals is the status quo.

    Your example, while engaging, actually negates the concept you were trying to illustrate.

    You started out by saying that bullying should be tolerated, not to complain, or to protest.
    Then, you point out the ways that what you describe as monetary bullying happens in adult life. This is where your analogy falls apart.
    If we go by your first statement, then we should tolerate the monetary bullying, knowing that it doesn’t matter to us, personally.

    Building your sense of self-worth, avoiding the mindset that bullying is OK, stepping out of the normal social hierarchy, and avoiding dependence on higher-status individuals, is both the appropriate behavior to teach your child, and the appropriate behavior as an adult.

  16. In the Money says:

    I have to agree with Courtney on this one. I agree with you about bullying in terms of money, however, your initial example of how to deal with bullies does not seem to apply to this discussion. One should never accept bullying from anyone and the correct attitude is not to shrug off the bullying, but to fight it and let the bully know it is unacceptable.

  17. Amy says:

    Good topic, bad message: The message I got from this article was “You will most likely be bullied in life both as a child and adult, the best response is to do nothing”.

    Never feel that the best response to bullying is to “shrug it off”! You can and should always stand up for yourself! Although is may seem easier, taking the path of least reistance is usually not the best if you want to live your life with self confidence and dignity.

    Worst of all is the idea that giving into bullying will somehow give you “positive recognition” from the bully. Who cares about positive recognition from someone who treats you badly? Always respect yourself, and never accept anything less from anyone else.

    I never accepted bullying as a child, and I’ve also never felt any pressure as an adult to keep up with the Joneses, buy things I don’t want, or work on Saturday. There is definitely a connection between this mindset as a child and a helpless, debt filled lifestyle as an adult.

  18. Susan says:

    My husband and I got married right after finishing university and had our first child right after our first wedding anniversary. We bought an older home with lovely wooden floors, a big yard and lots of charm. Lots of charm equals 800 square feet, one bathroom (with a rotting floor), third hand appliances and a huge unused water tank in the earth floor basement. People in the community wondered why my husband and I, both teachers, bought a ‘starter’ home. Surely with our credentials we would want something much more upscale! I am thankful for purchasing that first house and we have fond memories of our first home. I think it makes a lot of sense to purchase a ‘starter’ home when you are just starting. Being house poor is certainly no fun.

    Incidentally, that first home which we purchased roughly 15 years ago in northern Alberta, Canada cost $34,000. We giggled when a fellow teacher purchased a vehicle that same year for more than we paid for the house. Three years later we rented out our first home and moved up to a big swanky $66,000 house! :)

  19. Shevy says:

    Your reaction to childhood bullying disturbs me immensely. Bullying is common in school because of the “don’t rat” rule. Bullies get away with it and continue bullying, often throughout life. Finally, most schools are instituting zero tolerance for bullying but they can’t enforce it unless people tell!

    Remember, ignoring bullying allows people like Kelly Ellard to continue unchecked. I’m sure Reena Virk’s family would prefer that every person Kelly ever tried to bully had reported her until the problem was dealt with and the girl got whatever kind of help she needed. Instead, Reena died and the people of British Columbia have been forced to endure a series of trials, appeals and mistrials in the attempt to finally put Ellard behind bars long-term. This is, unfortunately, not the only case where a school age victim has died but it’s one of the highest profile cases.

    NEVER allow a bully to get away with it. G-d forbid, the victim could be one of your own precious children.

  20. Penny says:

    With regards to the bullying, maybe that was the right response for Trent at the time. He’s not advocating silence on the part of victims; he was recounting a story. I think you’re taking it out of context and, moreover, missing the point of the post.

    Getting to the actual point, we are bullied to a certain extent in adulthood. At work, there is a pressure to contribute to the baby showers, bridal showers, and birthdays. At home, in some families, it is not considered acceptable to give second-hand or homemade gifts. (Luckily, I grew up with little money, so our family doesn’t have a stigma on “gently used”. Now, should you cave to these things? No, but the fact remains that the social expectation is there. Anyone who says they don’t feel that pressure, whether they react to it or not, is either clueless or lying to themselves.

  21. Lenore says:

    I see the analogy you were trying to make about ignoring bullies throughout life, but it came across as blaming the victim. As someone who was bullied almost daily throughout elementary and junior high school, I resent the implication that my reactions perpetuated the abuse. Over the years I tried everything to keep from being insulted, hit, pinched and even spit on. In no particular order, I tried fighting back, shrugging it off, telling my teachers or parents, ignoring the taunts or sobbing from humiliation and pain. My reactions made little difference because I wasn’t the one STARTING the problem. Eventually I became hypervigilant and silent around others to make myself as invisible as possible. I still got tripped or stuff smeared in my hair from time to time, but mostly I was too boring to bother with: dead for the sake of survival. Being afraid to speak up would haunt me professionally, and I will probably never feel “as good” as other people. But I guess I succeeded in deflecting a few wedgies without being a “narc” and getting the poor bullies in any trouble. Does taking a roll in a trash can make you a better person? That’s one thing they never did to me, so maybe I missed out.

  22. Seth says:

    I had the same reaction when reading this as some of the previous commenters. First off, I would echo what Craig said about how you post ads on this site. Don’t get me wrong… I am NOT criticizing you for doing so! I am just wondering if you consider that bullying.

    Having also been a recipient of some older kid’s bullying, I would have to disagree with you on the ideal reaction to their torment. I think very few children can do what you described, with truly appearing as though it didn’t bother you. Even if you aren’t as vocal about your issues with their treatment (as with the kids who reported the incident, or those starting fights), you will surely give some indication about your disappointment in your face or in the way you act around them in the future. I also do not think that type of behavior should go unnoticed and without recourse while on school property. Even if the children do “try” to act like it didn’t bother them, the teachers and administration should be notified.

    Even if I disagree with some of the statements you made, I did like the post… thought provoking.

  23. Bea Helf says:

    Bullying comes in all forms as Trent mentions. I you run a manufacturing company for instance, I was put into the position of get this directive ” If you want to do business with us, you can’t take just part of what we offer you.” The attitude is you must take all or nothing at all.

    I found the only way you can ever deal with that kind of attitude is to never lose your ability to walk away from that situation. Like having more clients than just one big one. Make money on all projects (no more cash flow accounts) just to make payroll. Be willing to provide personal service to all, small clients and large. And it can’t be said to often, ASK for help when YOU need help and appreciate it no matter how small.

  24. SwingCheese says:

    Actually, in Iowa, Chet Culver signed a bill making it illegal for a teacher or administrator to ignore that type of bullying. Any adult witness who does so is at the risk of legal repercussions, regardless of the desire of the victim to “shrug it off”.

    I have to say, though, I never thought of advertisements as a form of bullying, though I suppose it is. The other day I saw an ad for a toy that I think my son would just LOVE at Christmas. Guess I’m going to have to keep an eye on that tendency! :)

  25. Ellen / MoneyLounge says:

    Insightful post. These are interesting new definitions to add to the word “bullying.” I had never thought of advertising as bulling, but I suppose it is in a way.

  26. Kate says:

    > You don’t need more things.
    > You don’t need better things.

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m fortunate to have what I already have. Freedom is living without things we may desire and being completely content.

  27. Steven says:

    This post reminded me of the synergy post right away. I get what you’re trying to say, yet it’s “wrong”, it doesn’t completely click.

    To me, bullying is intention to cause harm, whether it’s physical or psychological.

    The first two examples you listed are peer pressure. Do you succumb to peer pressure keep up appearances fit in? You know, like the cause of our current financial meltdown. Same thing with the workplace “bullying” which is just peer pressure. SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) exist because they are the most efficient/correct procedure at the time, not for all time. I just joined a company, and I’ve already redefined/rewritten many SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). These are processes that have been in place and they were unwilling to change because they had been comfortable with them. I told them half of them were wrong and the other half could be improved and I got the evidence on my own time. Sometimes, they just don’t know any better.

    Also, the boss pressuring you to working a weekend, is that really a big deal if it’s not every weekend? Do you expect raises, at all? Raises are suppose to be based on performance, so if all you do is what you’re suppose to do, what justifies that raise? Everyone is so hellbent on instant gratification, and won’t do anything unless they know what they’re getting in return. I’ve had part-time jobs where coworkers have asked for raises, but denied because they only worked half-assed and expected more money before actually doing that they’re paid to do.

    I’m a very independent person, and I don’t give in to peer pressure easily. It’d be a complete lie to say I’m not affected by it at all, but I don’t let it control me. I do what I need to do to help my company, and to help me grow. Do I expect compensation? I’d be lying if I said no, but I don’t do the extra work demanding compensation. I do things to help my company, and hope my company returns the favor. If they don’t, I’ve gained new knowledge and experiences that can aid in my quest in searching for a company that can appreciate me.

  28. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Also, the boss pressuring you to working a weekend, is that really a big deal if it’s not every weekend? Do you expect raises, at all? Raises are suppose to be based on performance, so if all you do is what you’re suppose to do, what justifies that raise?”

    You’re being bullied if you’re working for free in exchange for a theoretical carrot of a raise in the future that’s not stipulated anywhere. A carrot is just as big of a bullying tactic as a stick is.

  29. Steven says:

    A raise is to reward performance beyond expectations, which means performing better and taking on more responsibilities. Yes, a raise is a hypothetical carrot you may or may not receive, but expect raises for doing only what you’re already paid to do?

    Never work a second over 40 hours, never be proactive about things that can be improved, just do as you are told and do it so it’s barely satisfactory. As long as it is in line with the expectation of zero vertical movement in the corporate ladder and no pay raises, go ahead and complain about overtime.

    All I’m trying to say is, think of it from an employer’s perspective. Would you want to give a raise to someone who is only doing what they’re paid to do? Does someone deserve more money next year to have the same amount of responsibility as this past year? A raise is based on merit, and if you have not demonstrated it, then why should you be rewarded?

  30. dsz says:

    #29 Steven-I’m with you. I’ve been hourly, salary exempt and salary non-exempt, but I’ve always been a professional. I was there to get a job done and if it took evenings and weekends then that’s what I did. There was no bullying or pressure involved except that which I placed on myself. I promised my employers (and by extension our clients) to do my best. They promised to pay me on a regular basis and every two weeks there was a check with my name on it. They kept their part of the bargain, I kept mine. Whether I was paid for my overtime or not my conscience was clear. In return I did receive raises, bonuses, flex-time, the respect of my superiors and the gratitude of our clients. If it ever got out of hand to where I was unhappy putting in extra hours due to someone else slacking I would have spoken up but it never did. My goal was a thorough and correct analysis submitted on time to the client, no excuses. I was free to leave when the compensation did not match my expectations, but in the mean time I had people depending on me. btw, if you or anyone you love flies in a civilian or military aircraft you’re likely at the mercy of the quality and timeliness of my work. Lives are so much more important than money, at least to me.
    Sorry, I can’t put a price on my professionalism.
    As to the bullying, maybe that was the right choice for Trent at the time. We’re all different, but by turning the other cheek he pretty much guaranteed other kids were going to get the same treatment. At some point, they’d have gotten the message either by growing up or getting in trouble, but giving them free rein is not going to dissuade them. Bullying is never right and that kind of evil does flourish when the good do nothing. For my part, I’d rather stand up for myself and lose than take crap from a bully.
    I guess I can’t put a price on my self-respect, either.

  31. Steven says:

    @#30 dsz

    1. What a coincidence, I’m in the the aerospace industry too.

    2. Couldn’t have said it any better.

  32. Trent at #28–You can add bonuses to that point to. I and people I know have worked for companies who dangled bonuses that were never paid. Some plans were implemented, but watered down to nothing well into the designated period, others were strongly implied.

    The least expensive form of compensation/ motivation is a promise. It can motivate employees, at least until it’s proven to be empty, and it costs the employer nothing.

    Not all companies do this, but plenty of them do.

  33. getagrip says:

    When Trent mentions the bullying boss, it reminds me there are some out there who do it and don’t even seem to consider that they’re bullying. They’re just so gung ho, type A about the “job”, that it consumes them and they feel it should be consuming you as well. I bumped into someone I provided technical support for at work on a Saturday night in a bar while on vacation in another city. I tried turning the subject to the band that was playing, but he dove right into work related topics, then said he had documents in his car we could go out and look at then and there. I told him I’d get with him first thing Monday morning, but I came to relax, not work, and he looked at me like I had three heads. I have to say, the way his wife was rolling her eyes made me smile. This is the same guy who I was told got subordinates to leave a co-workers wedding and go back to the office that night because he had an idea he wanted to flesh out immediately. The killer is none of the things he typically wants to jump on required immediate attention, no deadlines were in jeopardy, no lives at stake, but he treated it all as if everything was a major crisis requiring extraordinary immediate effort, and he demanded everyone around him do the same. The saddest part is I never saw him putting up more good ideas or plans than any of the other managers in that area, despite the appearance of all that activity.

  34. Steven says:

    That’s some dedication to his job, and seriously, what’s wrong with that? (Just in case, I agree that he has no right in forcing it upon others. )

    A few of my coworkers think that I’m crazy that I willing come in to work on Saturdays sometimes. To me, it’s no big deal. I graduated from college a a year and a half ago, and I do a lot less than I had to do in college. I easily had 7 day work weeks between classes, homework, projects, tests, research in the lab, and a part time job. I left my apartment at 6:30 in the morning, and got home at 10 at night, then still had homework/projects/studying to do. Weekends? None, I got to sleep in a little, so I got 6-7 hours instead of 3-4. If I hang out with friends or go out to clubs, that came at the expense of sleep.

    Now, I’ve got a 8-5 job, go to the gym and work out for an hour, then play ping pong for another 2 hours. Go to the gym Saturday morning, and go across the street to work for a couple hours after. On Sundays, I just chill out, and end up wondering what to do, after not having free time for so long.

    It’s all a matter of perspective. I grew up with my parents running a restaurant, so when you come from a life without much comfort, and you’ve had to work your ass off your entire life, the standard for a comfortable life is different. I now work half as hard as my parents do, and get paid twice as much as they do combined. When I compare myself to them, I can’t complain about the work I do and what’s “required” of me.

    Not everyone is a genius, not everyone will come up with the next million dollar idea. There are those who are thinkers, there are those who are hard workers, and then there are the slackers. The ones who attain success are those who are teeming with qualities of the first two. Most people are some combination of the first two, and do so accordingly to cover what they lack. If you aren’t a great thinker, work harder and if you can’t/won’t work harder, then provide invaluable knowledge and experience. As long as you’re not in the last category, why the negativity? Mad that someone is willing to put in the extra mile and changing the status quo?

  35. tentaculistic says:

    I think the key to the overtime question is to figure out when it’s appropriate… when the overtime is required to get the job done well (eg proposal season, tight turn-around deadlines, crap hitting the fan), then you do it. If you have a boss who tends to expect 120% effort without a real workplace crisis, because of personality/control issues (enjoying making people jump) or poor management, that’s when it’s time to draw a line.

    I’ve happily worked late late late into the night and morning, when it was necessary. I’ve given up important personal and sports events to get work done. I’ve deployed to client sites to work emergencies, or stayed at their HQs to help with situational awareness. In short, there are emergencies and they need to be handled, and reasonable managers are within their rights to expect you to do your job.

    But there are other bosses who push people around and have unreasonable expectations. I had a boss who would set himself up as the bottleneck for my work, refuse to allow a different process that would allow a workaround around him, then fail to respond to my calls/emails/office visits so that I sat there unable to make any forward movement, and expect that when he called me after work hours I would just jump up and start working (including once when I told him that my friend who had just gotten laid off was at that moment at my house for dinner!). He started “joking” about my banker’s hours, and without getting upset I told him that if there is a crisis, I will work 24/7 until it’s resolved, and sleep at work if need be, but if it’s not a crisis then I will guard my work-life balance. Every time after that I used the shorter version “if it’s not an emergency, I go for work-life balance” and it finally sunk in. He stopped bugging me, and he stopped calling late at night.

    Now mind that wouldn’t work as well if I didn’t know that I could step away from this project any moment and find another project to work on within a matter of a couple hours. That’s the result of networking, helping other people in the past, and working my butt off on past projects, so that I do have a lot of options. That boss knew he didn’t hold my cards, so he didn’t bully me like I saw him do other people who didn’t have the walk-away ability. Boy, did he bully them!!

    Anyway, I agree with you Trent that there are workplace bullies, and that the knowledge that you can walk away can give you power that otherwise you would concede to your manager.

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