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My Boss Asked Me to Do Coke With Him

How should I react when he breaks out the baggie?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’re happy to introduce Go See HR — a biweekly advice column from Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, dedicated to solving all of your work-related woes, or at least serving as a confessional where you can share the thoughts and questions you’re uncomfortable sharing with your own HR department.

My boss asked me to go on a three-day business trip that’s mostly filled with partying and entertaining clients. He’s way into coke; I’m not. How do I react when he breaks out the baggie? And how do I react when we get back to the office?
Are you kidding me? Any boss who pulls this kind of shit falls into one of three categories: a) He wants to be friends with everyone, including people who report to him; b) He wants to see how you handle stressful situations; or c) He wants to have something to hold over you.

Think about these categories. He’s either stupid, an asshole or manipulative, none of which are the kind of boss you want to work for. Never, ever put yourself in a situation that is illegal or immoral, especially when anyone with a smartphone can post your picture on Instagram in a nanosecond. Your best course of action in this situation is to say to him and the assembled crowd (if there is one), “Not my kind of action; I’ll be down at the bar if you want to join me.” This lets everyone know you’re not being judgmental and still know how to party.

Back at the office, don’t bring it up, even if he brings it up. You don’t need to explain or excuse your behavior — or justify his. Start looking for a transfer or a new company because it’s doubtful you’re going to change his behavior. In the end, this is about you: are you a lemming or a lion?

I’m fascinating by this new French law that limits when employers can send work-related email (and when employees are expected to respond to them). Is there anything along these lines on the books in the U.S. — or any kind of guide about appropriate times to Slack, text, email your co-workers — kinda like the old maxim, Never call someone after 9 p.m.? And is your boss able to take retribution if they feel you haven’t responded to them in a timely manner, even when a timely manner involves answering them off-hours?
I’m afraid there’s bad news on your question about any legislative relief in the U.S. There’s nothing pending at the federal, state or local level to address off-hours electronic communication. However, on December 1, 2016, the revised “white collar” exemption salary threshold for the Fair Labor Standards Act moves from $23,660 per year to $47,476. Many people in retail, hospitality, health and other service industries who currently don’t receive overtime pay will now be required to be paid overtime whenever they check their phones or computers after hours.

The larger question is what’s driving managers and colleagues to send emails and texts at midnight or on Saturday morning. Can you really move the needle on anything at 4 a.m.? Or is relentless electronic communication actually necessary because of competitive pressures and short cycle times in your job/business (a real issue for many internet-related jobs)? In either case, if you believe your performance or job is at risk by not responding immediately to these communications, you must be living in a state of perpetual misery and stress, which isn’t good for you, your family, your friends and your company.

IMHO, 24-hour texting and emails are usually a result of incomplete or mismanaged expectations. You, your managers and your colleagues need to set boundaries and live within these limits. At one of my companies, we used a system of headers to manage these late-night and weekend annoyances that clearly spelled out what action, if any, recipients needed to take: URGENT — RESPOND ASAP; FYI — NO RESPONSE; BRILLIANT THOUGHT — TALK IN THE A.M.

I love my job, but hate everyone I work with. What do I do?
Wow! Hate is a strong word to use when talking about your work colleagues, so I’m wondering what you’re really trying to convey. Do you distrust them? Do you think they’re stupid? Do they have antithetical political beliefs? Do they steal your ideas? Do they not shower often enough?

If this is professional antagonism or mistrust, it may not be the right job or the right company for you, no matter how stimulating the job is. But if it’s personal, then you need to remember that this is work, not high school, so you may need to change your mindset. Yes, you spend most of your day at work, but you don’t need to be friends with everyone — or anyone for that matter; you need to be respectful and collaborative.

Can you talk to your co-workers about issues that are bothering you and get agreement on what’s acceptable to keep out of the workplace? For instance, “Let’s all agree not to talk about the election,” or “I’m offended by your [fill in the blank] slurs — so keep it out of the office.” If you can, smooth over workplace conversations, then don’t try to get invited to Taco Tuesday dinners with the group where it’s going to be a free-for-all.

You also don’t mention how large of an organization you work for, but perhaps you may have more in common with other colleagues than your immediate co-workers, so try expanding your work circle. You may find both friends and professional opportunities with that approach.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at terry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.