Woe Is Me! “My Co‑Worker’s ‘Hustling’ Is Setting Unrealistic Standards for Others. Can I Tell Her to Stop?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I am an intern at a medical college, and I started working with a very close friend a month back. Unfortunately, I was shocked to find out that our approaches to work are really different. Out of four interns, three of us asked for a holiday on Sunday while my friend voluntarily agreed to come by herself and “cover” for us (she would take an off on Monday instead). This went on for a few weeks, and now, our seniors are objecting to it, saying we let her do all the work on Sundays. They are repeatedly asking her if there was nobody else to help her. I believe she should be the one to clarify that she agreed to this voluntarily. But I feel that she enjoys the spotlight on her by going alone and doing all the work — for which she anyway gets a holiday on Monday.“
— Sisyphus of the modern age
DR: I have a simple, two-part solution for you. First, once your internship is up, maybe, don’t pursue a career at this place; it sounds toxic. I’m not saying that because you’re expected to come in on Sundays — I’m guessing your field doesn’t warrant more than one day off every week, and you can choose which day that would be. Instead, I’m saying this because your superiors seem more inclined to play the blame game than try to find out what’s really up. I’d also say they lack foresight; if they want more than one intern present on Sundays, perhaps, that’s something they could let you know, and suggest an arrangement — perhaps, an equitable, alternating one — that doesn’t leave a few people to do the jobs of many every Sunday. Now, onto the second part of the solution. Let me clarify at the outset that it shouldn’t be your — or any other intern’s — job to do this, but since your superiors have chosen to throw their hands up and complain, unfortunately, you will have to take the initiative to make your own life less stressful. So, sit down with your co-interns, work out an arrangement that works for everyone, then let your superiors know of the plan.
As for your friend, I think she’s actually made a smart choice — she gets a day off just like everyone else but seems to be more hard-working by simply picking that day wisely. I don’t want to question her intentions without knowing whether she meant to one-up everyone else, was genuinely trying to help out, was overcompensating for work-related insecurities, or actually prefers to take Mondays off rather than Sundays. I think you might have a better idea of her motivation, though.
RN: Your friend sounds like a total union-buster and needs to understand how her actions affect all of you. Maybe she doesn’t realize it or maybe this is deliberate — but either way, it calls for a conversation with her about how workplaces are collective spaces, where one person can have an inordinate impact on others, and always not in a good way. On the other hand, I’m willing to also give her the benefit of doubt: maybe she’s someone who gets burnt out and works best when she’s alone, but the corporate work structure doesn’t make this conducive for her? Sundays may then be the only option for this, and Mondays are her rightful downtime. If she’s trying to make adjustments that accommodate her needs, you should respect that and back off irrespective of what your superiors think.
But the only way to find out is by talking to her and asking why she does it. You can also respectfully inform her that she doesn’t need to “cover” for any of you on your time off — because there’s no work to cover for in the first place. Then, let her know that she should make the volunteering aspect of it clear. But above all, stick to your guns and treat work as work with firm boundaries — even if someone else changes the standard of what work entails for their own reasons.
VS: Since she is your friend, I think you can have an honest chat with her. Tell her how her working on Sundays makes the rest of you look bad before seniors. Let her know that you expect her to speak up and clear seniors’ assumptions. The two of you — or maybe even your whole group — can then discuss your expectations from this internship and figure out a weekly plan keeping in mind each one’s preferences and attitudes. It’s an internship; it may not matter in the long run, but if it’s a close friend, have an adult conversation and get it out of the way.
DD: This behavior is so unnecessary and I understand how being in this position is frustrating. I would suggest that if this is someone you can openly talk to, then having a candid conversation might help. Explaining how her behavior affects you directly might help her see how she is contributing to creating this difficult environment. Also, since this is just an internship and the stakes seem lower than a full-time job, I think you can skip the politeness and just say — kindly chill, you’re setting toxic standards for yourself and everyone around. Period. At the same time, I feel, that maybe asking her what is driving her to act in this way might give you some more perspective on who she is and why she would make decisions like this.
AS: The medical college might be a little unambitious for your co-worker. You can suggest alternative jobs to her, given her determination and grit. Making a podcast — in the leagues of a Ranveer Allahabadia or a Joe Rogan, perhaps — could be a good way to put her skills to maximum use. Or she could be a LinkedIn columnist, writing elaborate posts on the virtues of her daily hustle. And if none of this suits her enough, she can always start her own cult of motivational speaking. The opportunities are endless. The medical college is stifling her unending potential.