my boss thinks I’m his graphic designer, how to salvage my reputation at an internship, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss thinks I’m his graphic designer

I’ve been working at this chocolate shop for about six months now. It’s pretty slow and easygoing so I have a lot of free time. I remember the owner asking during the interview what I do for fun, and one of the answers I gave was drawing. He got really excited for some reason.

So he comes by the shop one day and starts talking about all this graphic design related stuff he needs to get done, but he can’t afford a proper graphic designer. Then he asks me if I’d come up with some ideas for this package design project thing, and I said, “Sure, why not.” So I did it, but oh my god it took forever. He’s so picky. Now he wants me to do his business cards, brochure, and logo. He’s says it’s hard work and her feels bad for me, but “Oh well, that’s the life of the designer.” That’s not my job though! I’m only getting paid minimum wage. And he’s a horrible “client.” He wants me to come up with everything from scratch because he doesn’t know what he wants, then basically has me start all over once it’s almost finished because he doesn’t like it. He says he’s giving me life experience but I think he’s just taking advantage of me because I’m young and he’s cheap. Am I wrong for thinking this way?

Nope, you are right. He is taking advantage of you. It’s not necessarily because you’re young though; people run into this at all ages.

If you’d be willing to do the work if you were compensated appropriately, say this: “I was willing to help out a bit for free, but if you want me to continue doing graphic design work, my rates for that are higher than what I earn for retail work here. If you’d like me to work up a pricing proposal, I can.”

If he tells you that since you’re doing the work on your chocolate shop time, you’re already getting paid, then you can say, “My rates for design work are very different! I wouldn’t have signed up to do design work for $Y/hour — that’s much lower than I’d charge for that work. Let me know if you want me to proceed with a pricing proposal.”

Alternately, if you just don’t want to do this work even if he pays you more, then you can say, “I’m actually taking a break from design work and not doing it right now. Sorry I can’t help!” Or, “I’m actually not interested in doing design work professionally. I was willing to help out with one project, but it’s not something I can do more of.” If he pushes you to do it anyway, say, “I can’t do it myself, but there are a lot of design firms that could help.”

2. My coworker told me he used too much medical marijuana one day

I work customer service at a financial tech startup and have been there for about six months. Since the startup world moves quickly, that already makes me a senior staff member and I’m actually up for a promotion to management.

We hired three new agents about a month ago and while I remember what it’s like to be new at the company, one of my new coworkers is really going about attempting a friendship with me in a strange way.

We do some of our work from home and especially on weekends it can be a more relaxed environment. Recently, this new coworker and I were working from home and he reached out to confide in me that he uses marijuana for anxiety and depression and since he was working from home he says he “miscalculated” and took too much.

I found it to be completely inappropriate for him to be smoking weed while at work, even though we have a laid-back office environment and a beer-stocked fridge in the office. Also, I don’t know how to handle his confession considering I might soon be his manager.

I feel like he’s put me in a weird position and I want to be super empathetic and not blame him for medicating for very real issues, but I just don’t see a world in which smoking weed during the work day will ever be as normalized as having a beer.

Assuming you’re not doing work that involves safety in any way, I’d treat it the same way you’d treat it if he’d confided in you that he took too much cold medicine and now felt loopy. In other words, ignore it. If he brings up the topic again, you can address it at that point by saying, “I’d rather not hear about this — it puts me in a weird position.”

I would think seriously about why a beer-stocked fridge at work is okay but using something that is legal medicine in 33 states and D.C. is shocking (and that’s before even considering the relative safety of each). Of course people shouldn’t use substances that impair them at work (including over-the-counter medications), but if you’d cut a coworker slack for a one-time dosage misjudgment with Benadryl, you might as well do that here too.

I assume, of course, that part of your concern — maybe even all of it — is the legality. Even if you’re in a state where medical marijuana use is legal, it’s still illegal at the federal level. But how your coworker manages a medical condition is just not your concern as long as he doesn’t make it your concern by continuing to raise this (which you can then stop him from doing) or appearing to allow it to affect his work.

3. How to salvage my reputation at an internship

I’m in law school and ended up with a remote internship this semester. My boss is talented and has an amazing job, so I was hoping to not only learn from her but also to gain a good reference and professional connection. The problem is that I keep dropping the ball on this internship in ways that I never have before. My work product has been good and I’ve gotten high praise for both the amount and the quality, but I have a recurring problem with our phone check-ins: I’ve missed one entirely and been late to call two other times (one slightly, one significantly). We have a standing meeting time but only use it sporadically, and they have been honest mistakes that I’ve promptly apologized for.

The meeting I missed was just because it had been set a few weeks in advance and I hadn’t put it on my calendar for some reason. After that one, I immediately made sure it was a recurring event on my calendar and set two reminders. The first late call (the slightly late one) was because I was in a meeting with the dean of the law school that ran over — I’ve since tried not to schedule meetings so close to our standing call time, although that can be tough given my packed schedule and the fact that our calls are only sporadic. The most recent late call (the significantly late one) was because I, exhausted after a long week, accidentally fell asleep while sitting on my couch waiting for our call time.

My boss also been nothing but kind and patient, and has acknowledged several times that I’m a full-time student with a full plate. At this point, though, I think my apologies are wearing thin. Is there anything I can do to salvage my reputation? Not only are these mistakes deeply embarrassing to me, but it’s unprofessional, and I worry that it’s (fairly!) coloring my boss’s impression of me. I’ve already vowed to myself to be flawless as possible from here on out, but these are basic mistakes and I feel stupid to have squandered such a wonderful opportunity by making them.

Your last two sentences — say them to your boss.

She’s probably wondering if you’re cavalier about the situation or don’t realize it’s unprofessional or inconveniencing her, and it can go a long way to simply say what you said here: “I want you to know that I take these mistakes seriously, realize being late to calls or missing them is unprofessional, and this has been deeply embarrassing to me. These are basic mistakes, and I don’t want to squander such a wonderful opportunity by making them. I’m going to be working to ensure they don’t occur again.”

If you were my intern and you said that to me, I’d feel relieved that you were taking the situation seriously and impressed that you addressed it so head-on.

That said … make sure you’re being honest with yourself about whether you have the time in your schedule to do this internship. If the reality is that you don’t, these mistakes are likely to keep happening, regardless of your intentions. If that’s the case, it’s better to be honest with yourself and your boss about the situation now, so you can discuss alternatives (like a pared-back version of the internship or dropping it altogether).

You could also look at whether the timing of your meetings is contributing to the problem. For example, if you can’t reliably know you’ll be out of other meetings in time to meet with your boss, would she be open to scheduling your calls for first thing in the morning, so that you don’t have anything on your calendar before them?

4. Our office is switching everyone to exercise ball chairs

Our office is undergoing some changes in a few months, transitioning to an open office plan with hot desking and telephone booths for privacy-sensitive calls. We’ve just received word that they’re replacing all chairs with the exercise ball model found here.

As these changes don’t affect my department, I’m silently enjoying the show. I was just wondering what your take on “active sitting” is in general.

My take is that it’s great to offer to people who want it, and ridiculous to force on people who don’t.

They really, really need to let people opt out of those chairs with zero hassle. At a minimum, they’re going to have people with health conditions that will make these chairs inadvisable or impossible, but there will also be people who just don’t want them — and everyone should be able to opt out with no questions asked. It is not an employer’s place to push their idea of “health” on employees.

5. My coworker complains constantly

I work for a large company on a close-knit team. We recently had a few members leave, and are slowly replacing them. We have a new guy on our team … and to say that he is annoying is an understatement. Much of it is likely just personality differences, but the thing that really rubs me the wrong way is that he COMPLAINS CONSTANTLY. He is new to our work but has worked in a related industry for 15 years previously, so he should understand why some of the things we do seem silly on the surface. They’re like that for a very specific reason, and whether you think it’s dumb or not, it’s part of our job.

He took over one of my tasks after he came on board, and now he likes to complain to me about the details, despite the fact that I had nothing to do with creating them. I’ve already said to him, “Well, that’s our job.” And he still continues. I’ve started just walking away when he starts complaining, because if I don’t then I might yell at him. This is just one example of the things he complains about. He also complains about a type of online training he’s currently doing to learn to use a specific type of computer system, our security meetings, etc, etc. Anything mundane he can complain about, he does. How do I deal with this without lashing out?

One possibility is to just be very direct about it: “Have you realized how often you complain? It’s really exhausting to hear so much. Could you rein in around me?”

And then, if he keeps doing it: “You’re complaining again, so I’m going to walk away.” Or, “If you have a specific question for me, please ask it — but I’m not here to hear your complaints.”

It’s possible this will shame him into stopping, or at least pulling way back on it. Or he might be annoyed with you, which is fine if it means he complains to you less. Either way, you’re going to make it very awkward for him to continue doing this, and that’s likely to lead to a lot less of it, which is the outcome you want.

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