Post Academic

Work Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on September 6, 2010
Tags: , ,

post academicI rarely blog about my current work life because blogging about one’s current work life usually gets little hamsters in big trouble. But a coworker did me a huge favor the other day that’s worth blogging about. He told me that I apologize too much. (For the record: I had stumbled into a conversation among colleagues about where to go drink after work, and I mistook it as interrupting a work conversation with another work question.) He’s right. It’s a bad habit that I cultivated as a childhood/teenage survival instinct.

Apologizing too much is often an issue for women, like we have to apologize for having thoughts. Men don’t apologize before they talk, or at least I don’t hear it that often. I don’t have a problem with that, either. Even if a thought isn’t a good one, why apologize for having it? But I still feel like I need to add a caveat before I make a statement.

Apologizing too much is also an issue for academics, not just female ones. Someone, somewhere started assuming that academia was an easy life. There are many movies, novels and slacker tenured professors to thank for this, so now academics feel like they have to atone by working themselves to death just to prove they work as hard as everyone else. (For non-academic readers, let it be said: Academics work hard. If you don’t believe it, step into their shoes for a day. I was in their shoes, and it was so hard that I threw up and fled.)

Tips on avoiding the apology trap after the jump! Image of a “Sorry!” game board by myguitarrz on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Ivory Tower Survival: A Sense of Detachment

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe response to “Can Being a Lowly Grad Student Kill You?” was intense and informative. One of the comments led me to Bob Sutton’s book “The No Asshole Rule,” and this book needs to be shared with anyone who is about to enter the work force. Sutton argues that a) Assholery results in lost profits and b) Assholery is contagious, so unless you know how to handle a workplace asshole, you might turn into one yourself.

One of the best tips Sutton offers involves how to cope when you can’t escape an asshole. The Hamster World offers many more avenues of escape, but the Ivory Tower is difficult to navigate, and you may find yourself trapped with an asshole. You can’t fight back because assholes can wreck your career, but you can thwart the asshole by employing strategic detachment:

If you face constant abuse, then (until you can get out) going through the motions and “not letting it touch your soul” is one tactic that can help you survive with your self-esteem intact. In my view, when organizations and bosses treat their people badly, they get what they deserve when their people respond by becoming emotionally detached and doing as little as possible without getting fired. In this imperfect world, there are times when learning “not to give a shit” is the best short-term solution available.

A seasoned asshole wants a reaction from you in order to validate his or her own power. Encouraging the asshole only makes matters worse. It is tough to resist punching someone in the face, even if it is richly deserved, but doing so means you’ve just been infected with asshole syndrome. The best survival strategy is to look for a new advisor, a new field or flat-out a new career. At the very least, the asshole will lose interest in you and move on to more interesting prey.

Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Why You Should Treat “Flexibility” on the Job With Skepticism

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionDuring the third season of “Mad Men,” Don Draper takes repeated middle-of-the-night calls from Conrad Hilton, owner of the hotel chain and a VIP. Anyone tethered to a Crackberry should groan upon seeing it. Even the powerful Don Draper can be caught in the trap of “flex time.”

“Job flexibility” or “flex time” has grown increasingly popular as a benefit, and it’s one of the reasons people flock to academia. In many cases, flexibility is a good thing, especially if you have children or need to see a doctor regularly. That way, you can make up your work hours at night or on the weekend, and you and your boss will still be happy.

Lately, however, I’ve seen “flexibility” be abused or misinterpreted to mean “available at all hours of the day or night.” In academia, the overhyped flexibility will have you bending over backwards. Students e-mail at weird hours, you do your work at night because of marathon meetings during the day or coffee breaks that turn into grading sessions. But hey–it’s all worth it because you’re not doing the 9-to-5, right?

More after the jump! Image of contortionist from 1880, Wikimedia Commons, public domain. (more…)