Q: I work part-time out of choice in an hourly job. My problem is that my boss and co-workers don’t respect my boundaries. They pressure me to cover for others and spend more time than I can at work, and then treat me as if I’m not one of the team when I refuse. How can I get them to be understanding so that work can be a more positive place for us all?
— Annie, 42, sales assistant
A: Maintain a strong but nondefensive stance to protect your priorities.
If you feel shaky about what you want, take time to re-evaluate. I’m betting that your assessment will confirm for you that you are on the right path, and that will help you feel anchored.
Remember too: your priorities are no one else’s business. Whether it’s yours or your family’s health, aging parents, ongoing education or something entirely different, you don’t need to defend your choices.
If you are not solid about this, people will sense it and feel most empowered to put on the pressure.
At the same time, your tone matters. If you are uncomfortable saying no, you may respond with an edge that you didn’t intend. This could contributing to the negative culture you mentioned.
Try finding a pleasant way to respond when co-workers ask you to sub for them; for example, “Sorry, I’m off today and already have commitments.” No extra details, no annoyance for being asked.
Regarding your boss, it’s essential that you have a conversation about their expectations. Is your current boss the same person who agreed to your part-time hours in the first place? If not, they may not be on board with your schedule, and it’s important to get aligned. If it is, then seek information on what might have changed in the team’s needs.
Consider circumstances when you might pitch in. Some give and take is helpful, as you want people to be willing to help you in a pinch. That’s a far cry from being the team doormat, which can happen if you permit it.
Find other ways to build team connections. Part of the distance you feel may be because you say no sometimes. However, part of it might be that you’re just not around as much because you’re part time. Do simple things like initiating a friendly chat or bringing in treats now and then.
Then accept that they might not like it, no matter what you do. At that point, consider your options.
Of course, if the pressure crosses into abuse or harassment, you need to let HR know. If it’s stressful but doesn’t cross lines, you’ll need to decide if you can deal with it.
Part of it comes down to options. If there are other jobs that would give you the flexibility you want, you might choose to be less tolerant.
It also depends on what you really want and need from work. Again, if the benefits outweigh the issues, you might opt to overlook the less ideal aspects.
Just be sure that you don’t settle for less than you want and need from your job.