Collaborative problem-solving. Scalability. Solutions-based tactics. Results-oriented. Verticals. Delegating opportunities for growth. Synergy.
This is just a sampling of the corporate dialectic that inspired our answer to this week’s question on the podcast. Because sometimes, my friends, you have to fight fire with fire in the workplace. And by “fire” we mean “insufferable corporate bureaucracy.”
It’s ok, my sweet. We promise that by the end of the episode, you won’t hate yourself. Instead, you too will delight in using the tools of corporate assholery to dismantle the system and turn it in your favor!
This week’s question
Today’s letter comes to us from Patreon donor Genevieve. Genevieve asks:
Hi friends! I’m a project manager for a dumpster fire of a project. Our contract is only $70K but they give our company $50M of work, so we’re stuck with them. We are almost done with a “Phase 1” of our project and will soon be starting a “Phase 2.” I legit don’t have time with my other work to continue to be PM for this client, but I also just don’t want to. Should I try to get out of being the PM and take whatever “hit” by “quitting” this client, or should I figure out how to stick it out (at the cost of my own mental health tbh)? Any suggestions for “sticking it out”? I’ve had medium success asking for help from colleagues/managers.
Thank you and love the show! P.S. I’m a woman in a very male kinda tech workplace.– Literal Amazon warrior, Genevieve
We love nothing so much as waxing authoritative on navigating the workplace. So here’s more advice:
- Stop Over-Apologizing at Work
- Your College Major May Not Prepare You for Your Job—but It Can Prepare You for Life
- Season 2, Episode 7: “How Do I Throw My Incompetent Coworkers under the Bus?”
- You WILL Regret Accepting Your Coworker’s Social Media Friend Request
- Season 1, Episode 5: “I Don’t Love My Job, but It Pays Well. Should I Quit—or Tough It Out?”
- Are You Working on the Next Fyre Festival?: Identifying a Toxic Workplace
Bitchlings, this little podcast of ours would not be possible without the generous serving of whiskey we pour ourselves before recording every episode. And also our Patreon donors! Those blindingly beautiful souls are the caulk that holds the leaky lifeboat that is Bitches Get Riches together. And for that we couldn’t be more grateful to them. To join their illustrious band, join our Patreon below!
Episode transcript (click to reveal)
This episode, like all of our episodes, is brought to you by our Patreon donors. So this time, we’re saying thank you to Ana, Teri, Jessica, Dana, Charlotte, Krystal, Natalie, Jess, Lane, Colleen, Jordan, and Kim. And an extra-special thanks go out to Kimberly, Nancy, Morgan, and Rhiannon. Kimberly, you are a pure-hearted alpine rabbit. Nancy, you’re a rare and prized variegated monstera plant. MorGAN, I love you more THAN most. And Rhiannon, you are a very helpful forest witch.
Okay, so you know the NPR story about The Feather Heist, right?
Yes. Fucking love it.
For our listeners, it’s this kid who had a hobby of tying flies for fly fishing who robbed a fucking museum of these dead bird samples that were extremely rare and extremely important so that he could use their feathers to tie flies to sell.
Flies being the little dangly bobbly bits that bobble on the water.
The little dangly bobbly bits.
And do these flies have any impact on your ability to catch a fish? Absolutely not. It’s just a very strange, very cutthroat niche hobby, that’s it.
Half the time you lose your flies when a fish bites the fly and then rips it off your fishing line.
Yeah, they’re like disposable.
Yeah, they’re like disposable! We were on a fishing trip recently and I looked at the fly that my husband’s friend was tying, and I was like that looks just like a little grasshopper. And I said out loud, I was just like there’s gotta be a way to 3D print those things these days. And they were like, that’s not part of it. Tying these elaborate flies and putting the work and the artistry into them, even if it’s just with dyed chicken feathers, that’s part of it. I have not stopped thinking about it since.
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We’re a PG-rated movie about an odd couple paired in an unlikely scenario that is at once knee-slappingly hilarious, and heartwarming.
And we’re here to teach you the true meaning of family.
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So let’s get started.
Today’s letter comes to us from Patreon donor Genevieve. Genevieve asks: Hi friends! I am a project manager for a dumpster fire of a project. Our contract is only 70K but they give our company 50 million in work, so we’re stuck with them. We are almost done with a “Phase 1” of our project and will soon be starting a “Phase 2.” I legit don’t have time with my other work to continue to PM for this client, but I also just don’t want to do it. I’ve had medium success in asking for help from colleagues/managers. Should I try to get out of being the PM and take whatever “hit” by “quitting” this client, or should I figure out how to stick it out (at the cost of my own mental health to be honest)? Thank you and love the show! PS I’m a woman in a very male kind of tech workplace.
Should I quit this thing I don’t want to do and kinda hate? Or should I stick it out and be miserable?
I think everyone can relate to that.
If you’re even asking this question, it means subconsciously you know you don’t want to stick it out. You really want someone to give you permission to walk away, and Genevieve, my darling Genevieve, let me give you that permission. You are allowed to extricate yourself from this situation, to stop being a project manager for this awful client, and to move on to other things. So, there you go, there’s your permission.
Now let’s talk about how. The fact that you are a woman in a very male, in your words, male kinda tech workplace, I think that’s going to be harder for you than most.
You may feel like the worst thing you can do is to not try hard enough, and to give up on something, whereas I think probably the men in your department aren’t so much saddled by the cultural baggage that they have to keep going and sacrificing no matter what in order to get the job done.
A lot of women who’ve worked in male-dominated workplaces, they are the delegatee rather than the delegator. People are like, well I don’t want to do this, what about Cheryl? Cheryl will do this.
Mmhm. And so I worry that you are even the project manager on this because some dude at your company didn’t want to do it. Which blows, right? I feel like in this scenario, you need to make your delegation of this task into an opportunity for somebody else. Project manager is a big fucking deal. Like that’s a really good job that is a lot of responsibility and takes a lot of training to do well. So in this case, my recommendation would be to find somebody younger and less experienced in your company and delegate it to them. And put this to the client as like thank you for your trust in Phase One of this project. I really appreciated working with you. I would now like to pass you off to this young, hungry, up-and-coming member of the staff. I know you’re going to be in good hands with them. Don’t worry, I’ll be there to answer their questions if there is ever any doubt they’re doing the right thing, but I would love to give them the opportunity to do this. Give the client the opportunity to be altruistic and patient with another project manager, who maybe needs the experience.
Piggy, your advice is really good for her specific situation. It sounds like it’s possible that Genevieve has enough autonomy or pull or experience and has a big enough team that maybe delegating might be a possibility for her. But I want to also acknowledge how many people go through this who do not have that level of autonomy.
They may be the most junior on their team, or something like that, and they still end up stuck with these sucky work tasks. I feel like anyone can benefit from learning strategies for how to push back on certain tasks. Because Genevieve told us that she both doesn’t like the tasks and also that she doesn’t have the time for the tasks.
Yeah, there’s a fundamental problem there.
Yeah. Maybe the easiest thing to do is to leave aside the fact that you don’t like it. Go in with the fact that you do not have the time for this. And this is the kind of thing that I think—usually my advice is, when you have a problem and you’re taking it to your manager, you should go in with a solution. But in some situations, like this one, I would actually recommend going to your manager and saying I’m having this problem. I have way more work than I could conceivably get done. This project is too big for me to be splitting my focus doing a bunch of other things and this, so I need this off my plate and I need your help to do it. What are your ideas?
Making it very explicitly something that you are putting on your manager and bringing as a problem to them, that they need to enable you and solve this problem for you, may make things a lot easier for you overall.
Absolutely. If you have a manager, they are supposed to manage you. This is what their job is. Their job is to set you up for success, to make it so that you have the resources you need to succeed in your job. And if they come back at you with well sorry, figure it out, that’s a failure on their part.
Every job description ever is just like we look for somebody who’s collaborative and knows how to work on a team and is good at teamwork. And just like, part of teamwork is communication and letting people know when you need help. If companies are seeking that quality in applicants, they shouldn’t punish you for being collaborative about problem solving and asking for help when it’s needed.
God, I’m smart.
Being collaborative about problem solving. That’s so corporate, I love it.
I want to be collaborative about this problem solving. Please fix this shit for me, per favore.
I think also like a little hot tip from us old gals, been around—
We are super old gals.
You can tell a lot about your company’s management philosophy based on how many direct reports your managers tend to have. So managers have what are called direct reports, or you know every company has different terminology, but they have the worker bees who are reporting in to them, right?
And based on the size of that team, you can kind of tell what the bigger company’s expectations are of that manager.
If you work in a company where a manager might have 2 or 3 or 5 direct reports, they’re probably expected to be a pretty hands-on person. If there’s a problem, they’re expected to help you out, jump in and do things hands-on, they may have things that only they do as part of the over-all work-flow of the company. Whereas if you work at a company, and this is the case for me, I work at a company where every manager has a dozen direct reports. And you can tell by the structure of that, having so many direct reports, they have no expectation that my manager will get any work done personally. His only job is to show up like the genie in front of all his direct reports and say [poof] what do you need? [poof] what do you need? [poof] what do you need?
Great sound effect.
His full time job is just enabling us. So that’s a little hot tip, you may get more or less traction with that approach depending on what your company’s overall management philosophy is and I think looking at team size is a really easy way to gauge that.
Totally. I also want to talk about one thing that Genevieve brought up. So she was like, should I try to get out and take the hit of quitting this client? She is anticipating professional negative ramifications if she quits this client. Women, non-binary people, people who are generally not cis-gender white males in the workplace worry a lot about negative repercussions, like getting punished for something they do at work, which I want to push back on.
I think in my experience sticking up for yourself in the workplace actually ends up getting you more respect rather than less.
Yes. I completely agree.
I think a lot of women, non-binary people, young people in the workplace, people who are very junior and don’t quite know what their options are yet, they get into this mode of thinking, where they think that if they say no, or they refuse to say, answer a call at 6p.m. when office hours end at 5—they think if they do one of those things that it will be reflected negatively on them. And honestly, this is my honest lived experience, I have never gotten more respect and support in the workplace, both from my managers, my upper-level leaders, and from my own co-workers, than when I have set clear boundaries and stood beside them. I think sticking up for yourself, you are creating an environment that everyone on the team appreciates. You are contributing to a culture where people don’t unnecessarily overwork themselves, where they keep work in the workplace during paid work hours, which is exactly where work belongs.
Mm-hm. 100%. If you read Ask A Manager, you’ll find these stories, like horror stories of people being mistreated in the workplace and punished for exactly these kind of things. Those are the outliers, in my experience. Exactly what Kitty said, if you’re worried about being punished for, you know, properly delegating this task to somebody else or responsibly moving this off of your plate or asking for help, like don’t be. As long as you are conducting yourself with professionalism and you are getting ahead of this issue before it becomes a larger issue, like you will earn nothing but respect from your team. You’re not going to be punished, you’re going to improve the work environment that you work in and you could even improve the clients’ experience as well. God that sounded so fucking corporate.
Uh, you know, we’re living the dream.
Speaking as somebody who has managed other humans, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. I really appreciate it when one of my managees comes at me and is like, hey, I don’t know how to do this or I don’t have time for this and gives me that heads up before it’s a problem. And that way I can be like, oh here are any of a dozen solutions that I can present you with, but it’s less efficient to sit there stewing in your own juices being like, I don’t have time for this and I don’t want to do this cause this client sucks and just like keeping that to yourself. Cause your manager, and the rest of your team for that matter, might not even realize what you’re going through.
And giving them that information, at the very least you could be unlocking solutions that they like easily have that you didn’t even think of.
The squeaky wheel really does get the grease. Yeah. It is so not helpful from a manager’s perspective, to have your your direct report, your employee, come to you and say, I am burnt out and I’ve had enough, and I am going to cut off my own head if I have to answer one more email from these assholes. That is way too late if that is the first I’m hearing about this. Like, I can’t fix that. Obviously, like, some companies just suck. Some managers just suck. They really don’t care. And the best thing you can do in those situations is just figure it out quickly, so that you can move on with your life, to somewhere that you will be respected as the—
—beautiful and independent human being that you are, but like, you need to give them some—
Some heads up.
Yeah. Yeah, like, you can’t just wait until you’re hitting a wall.
From a managerial perspective, when people try and frantically solve problems when they’re clearly in over their head and the faucet is overflowing, like that’s worse than just saying I made a little mistake, I have some ideas for solutions, but like I just think you should know about this ahead of time. Like I wanted you as the manager to be aware that this is a problem. Like that is so much better for everyone than watching the sink overflow with panic in your eyes and no idea of what to do.
Exactly. I actually think this leads me to probably the final point I want to make.
Go for it.
Parenting I think is actually a great example of a kind of job that people have to do that has really, really great parts of the task and really, really shitty parts of the task. You know, reading to your child as their eyes gently slide shut as they fall asleep at night, and then there are other tasks that are changing poopy diapers. I think it’s really helpful to rotate those jobs around. Your cohort, if you have one, like the people who work in your same company, who are also project managers or who have project management skills, if you are on a team of other people who share that kind of stuff, I think it can be really helpful to say hey, can we rotate the worst stuff around? So, when I was working on a creative team with three other graphic designers, we kind of had it structured so that I handled the stuff from these clients and the other two handled stuff from two other groups of clients. And that work was divided pretty evenly. But every group had one client who was just such a shithead, so difficult, so hard to communicate with, so exacting that they made our lives way worse by having to do project after project for them. So we had 4 special clients that we said, okay these 4 who are our troublemakers, we’re going to rotate them. Amanda handled this annoying guy last time. So a new request came in, guys, it’s my turn, I got this one. And that way, we could all not only share the worst parts of the tasks so that no one person was getting really burned out, but also it actually built a lot of camaraderie because together, we all had different approaches to handling those problems. And we kind of helped each other develop strategies to mitigate them more successfully. So that’s another option. If you have other people, you know, for Genevieve as a project manager or for anyone listening, no matter what your job is. If you work alongside other people who share those roles and responsibilities talk together about, let’s isolate the worst stuff. And if we work in a restaurant and we have to deal with on Saturday night, there’s always somebody goes into the bathroom, pukes and it gets on the seat. All right, I got the last one, you need to get this one.
Take turns changing the poopy diapers. It not only will be easier on you, but it will make your entire team appreciate that really difficult task and how hard it is to do.
Exactly, exactly. Genevieve, you may have been doing all of this so well that no one knows what a nightmare it’s been. Good job, gold star, but that time is over. You need to make it known that this shit stinks and it’s time for someone else to change this poopy diaper.
Are you good with that?
I am good with that.
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Hey, is there anything else that our listeners should know?
Yes, the world, and I know this may shock some people, does not revolve around New York City.
I cannot believe that you would have the audacity to say something so brave, and yet so true.
Kitty & Piggy 19:20