Monday, January 7, 2013

Why I am scared to return to work

In my last post, I alluded to this fact. I am, indeed, scared to return to work. There are a few reasons...

I think I need to start out with why exactly I am no longer working. I also alluded to that in a recent post, but never came out and said exactly what happened. I wasn't laid off. Yup, the F word. (I'm so hesitant to type that word here, or even discuss the situation,'s who I am and I can't really hide from it.)

Did I know it was coming?
No. I had been written up in April 2012, but so had my coworker. There were only two of us in the department under this boss, and there was tension from my boss's first day of work in February 2011. Yet, I'd been promoted in January 2012. From the write-up meeting through the final meeting, I thought things were fine. I was completely blindsided.

Why did this happen?
According to the letter I received in the "final meeting," I was being dismissed for insubordination, lack of professionalism, and my recent work performance had suffered.

How much of that was true?
I'm not sure. While I know my recent work performance was suffering, I also know that I was making this clear to my boss; I wasn't hiding anything from him. I had been behind on some things, but I had planned on using the rest of 2012 to make up all assignments and any time that I needed to make up. In fact, I arrived at work around 7 AM on my very last day. The irony. Too little, too late, I guess.

They (boss and company owners) knew about Chris' illness; I made them aware of what was going on when we got the diagnosis. They said I had their support, to do what I needed to do. Chris' illness did affect my work performance. I was worried about him. His mental health was affected: he was panicked and worried about his health, his future, the lack of information the doctor was giving him, and so forth. He was calling me all of the time at work because he was scared; I had to leave early a few times. In addition, the worry was taking its toll on me; I have battled depression in the past, and the black dog was coming back to hang out with me. I had trouble getting to work on time.

[I know now that I should have been offered intermittent FMLA or even complete FMLA. To take some time off from work to care for Chris and to get my head together. That was never offered to me.]

Regarding the other claims in their letter, I believe that what transpired over Thanksgiving weekend was what really nailed the coffin. My boss called me and texted me repeatedly on Black Friday--3 times each in a 30 minute period. I was not on call that weekend, nor have I ever been on call in my tenure with the company. There was an incident a week or two prior to Thanksgiving where there was an error on the company web site that he wanted me to handle. I guess he didn't like my response to any of these issues. I guess I was too nonchalant or didn't take enough action. With the Black Friday episode, I did compose an email that I believed to have been professional, yet it did go to several people, so that might have been where I went wrong. I was trying to stick up for myself and not get taken advantage of.

In the final meeting, when I asked exactly what happened, my boss actually asked the owner of the company if he had to answer me. I was told by the owner that there had been "several issues, and mistakes, and they needed someone who could take ownership of these things." Additionally, my boss said that he needed someone he could depend on, who he didn't need to tell things to. That's fine, but it had never been addressed with me, and I said that it never had been discussed with me, not in any meetings I had with my boss regarding the holiday campaigns, any one on one's we regularly had, or even in my promotion meeting. How was I to know what needed to be done when I wasn't being told so? I also said (very calmly) that it was absurd to expect employees to know what to do.

Maybe I was set up? Maybe they wanted to get rid of me for awhile? Who knows. Several people think he had an agenda from day one and part of that might have been to get rid of me. This guy was not well liked by many people at the company, and yet, I'm the one who is without a job. Loyalty means nothing, and that upsets for someone who tends to be an idealist.

Now, as to why I'm afraid to return to work...

1. I'm afraid to juggle work and home again. Chris is doing a bit better, yes, but there might be other doctor's appointments that he'd like me to attend. It's hard to start a new job and get time off. And let's face it, home runs a bit smoother now that someone is home, taking care of things. Flexibility is nice.

2. I wouldn't have seniority, including more vacation time. I'd be starting over again as the "new girl," having to prove myself. This would have been an issue even if I'd left a job on my own terms, especially if I was going right into a new position.

3. I'll be 33 in March, and I would like to be on our way to starting a family sometime in 2013. You need to be working at a job for 12 months before you can qualify for FMLA, if the employer has 50 employees or more. Yes, I could theoretically start a job, work there for a few months, then get pregnant, and be in the clear for FMLA. This brings up a few other concerns, that I never had to think about until now:
  • What if I need to go on leave before the 12 months have elapsed? For any reason, really, not just pregnancy.
  • I wouldn't be just proving myself as the new girl, I'd also be proving myself as the PREGNANT new girl. It's hard enough to learn how a new place operates, and get up to speed. Now, imagine that with pregnant brain and being tired? I've heard stories from friends about how hard it is to work the easiest of jobs. I don't want to be discriminated against.
4. Can I even land another job? Who would want to hire me? What am I good at? Would I just lose my job again? What if I find myself in another bad situation that isn't family-friendly or flexible? I think these are questions and fears that a lot of people have, and I know most of them are silly, but I still have them. 

Thoughts on what to do next...

Some people have said to me that if Chris and I can live on just his salary, then maybe we should see how things go for a bit. I am collecting unemployment, and we're missing about $775 from my old salary. We're also missing the money I was socking away for retirement, which was deducted pre-tax and NOT matched, but that's money we never saw.

If I stopped getting unemployment and didn't work at all, we'd be out about 40% of our former income, so whatever I end up doing, I will need to work at some sort of job. I've seen some interesting part time jobs, but when I did the math, I am making more via unemployment, which is sad. I don't know the laws for my state or how they view part time work, but I think that I would lose some (not all) of the unemployment benefits. Part of me feels entitled to this money, that I should allow it to supplement our living, and part of me feels guilty, that I'm just mooching and being lazy, and that I should just go back to work. I am doing some freelancing work, but I don't know if the people hiring me are going to claim my work as a business expense, or if I need to fill out W9 forms. I don't want anything to come back to haunt me since our social security numbers track everything; I need to talk with our accountant. I can't just give up the unemployment money and focus on my business--I need an income to support me while I'm trying to get clients!

Chris is concerned with being the sole earner and has many of the same fears that I did when he was out of work, yet he likes how things are going much smoother at home. It's a conundrum. He also wanted someone to be at home with our kids, and that usually is the mother. A few months ago, I had done some math about our salaries, day care, and family health insurance. Even though I made more than he did, in these scenarios, it was advantageous for me to stay home. Why? If he stayed home, a family health insurance plan through my then-company would have been horribly expensive. If I stayed home, a family health insurance plan through Chris' employer would haven't been much more than it is now. Half of my income would have gone to day care. For what, me to be stressed out more than I already am--about work, my house, my family, myself, money? Ugh.

My feminist side says it's not good for anyone to depend on another person, that we need to be independent. But then I laugh, because Chris depends on me, as much as I depend on him right now! I make sure his clothes are clean, that we have food to eat, and all of those nice things. He can focus on work, getting himself healthier, and his usual house chores/duties. There aren't any fights over who's cooking tonight, and who didn't pull out the meat from the freezer. It's more clear cut. And even when I was working, we lived as though we "depended on" both incomes. Everything went into one pot, from which we paid bills, saved, and lived. It wasn't my money and his money, and it still is. In our house, any sort of independence is really an illusion. We're a team, a unit. What affects my husband affects me and vice versa. Yet, this "dependence" is making me feel like I need to stay home, at least in the near future.


  1. Does the phrasing of the title of this post say a lot? It is incredibly difficult to make good choices when fear is involved, and it is only natural that you are scared!

    Have you asked yourself whether working is good for you, whether you need to work, and not just financially? Of course it may seem silly to think of work as good for your mental health when your last job was such a bad environment, but is the actual structure of a regular work environment helpful to you personally?

    Also, is there any reason for you to *not* job hunt? It seems like the choice would be much clearer if you had an actual job offer (or found it impossible to get one) rather than just trying to figure things out purely with hypotheticals.

    In terms of planning for a family, don't forget that it might also take a little while. If you had 6-12 months of TTC, would you be able to deal with it best if you were working a structured job, or at home with potentially more time to agonize over things?

    Yay for me for making your already complex situation seem worse, right? ;-)

    In all seriousness though, I think you are doing a great job of thoughtfully evaluating your options during a challenging time. And that is huge! So give yourself a lot of credit for reflection.

    And please don't ask me about whether I'm terrified to return to work. :-)

    1. You're absolutely right--I don't think I can make any long term decisions now. There is a lot of fear. I do have a therapist and I've been discussing this with her. She has always been a proponent of me working from home, since I have a lot of discomfort when talking about work, and enjoy getting to run my own show.

      Here's the thing: I do very well with structure, at least in the academic sense, but it was something I struggled with upon entering the workplace. I had to be there at a SET TIME? And stay until THEY said I could go? At least in the academic world, I could schedule classes for when I wanted them to be (for the most part). If I didn't like the time, I would tough it out, knowing that I had other free time later. I guess I like a loose structure, if that makes sense? Even if it annoys other people, especially my husband. "Oh yeah, I'm going to make dinner...huh, it is 5 PM, I guess I should do that..." when I might have planned on starting around 7.

      No, there's no reason for me not to job hunt. And I am looking, I look every day. I just don't see anything that appeals to me or that I think I could tolerate day in and day out. Perhaps that's fear talking as well?

      You're right, it might take some time to get pregnant. I'm still about 50 pounds from where I'd like to be...oy. I guess I'm looking at it in terms of if I need NaPro, the nearest doctors are still 2+ hours away. I'd have time to go see them.

      Everything you said in your comment are things that I've thought about and still need to consider, so please don't worry about making this more complex. :) Thanks for your words of encouragement!

  2. I feel the same way. Even though I was laid off and my position was "eliminated" I can't help from thinking that it was something I did...or didn't do and not just a budget issue. And will it happen again? I guess we could go round and round in our heads but we wouldn't have anymore answers. :(

    1. No...we wouldn't have any more answers than we do right now...and the bills would still come. :)

      Job loss isn't easy, no matter HOW it happened. As you know, Chris has been laid off twice. It's a blow to the ego. You think, "did they take the 'weakest link?' Couldn't they have gotten rid of someone else? Why me?" And in his case, it DID happen again, but we also realize that it's the nature of his field. Nonprofit human services run on tight budgets and depend on state/federal money. If the grants aren't funded, the agencies don't get the money...vicious cycle. I've suggested he look into other fields, ones that aren't so dependent on funding, but this is what he's done his entire professional life. Perhaps it's like a calling?


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