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Friday, December 3, 2021

It would be great if people could learn how to write by email

I have a colleague with whom I have become relatively close over the past two years. For a year I was her direct manager, although she has since moved to another department. We have shared some personal details about our life. While I prefer to tackle these kinds of problems outside of work, I was happy to act as a soundboard, as I felt like I was one of her only sources of support.

She recently had such a rough time that she took a little sabbatical. She came to me first because she needed help to sort out the situation, which is fine, but now I know quite a lot about her medical history and mental state, and she continues to come to me with regular updates, even when I call seek her extra help. I had to convey some serious concerns about her mental health to HR, so I feel like I did my part professionally. It seems completely irrelevant to me to know so much about her health, and I want to set boundaries, but I don’t know how to do it without really upsetting her. I care deeply about her, but I have no emotional or professional opportunity to take on this.

How can I sensitively but correctly set this border?

– Anonymous, Boston

Your coworker sees you as a friend, while you see her as a colleague with whom you are friends. But honestly, I don’t think you have set clear boundaries on what you will and will not discuss with her. When she talks to you with her problems, you listen, even when you try to redirect her to more appropriate resources. It is very likely that she has no idea what is being divided too far; she thinks she trusts a friend.

I fully understand that I do not have the bandwidth to handle her problems, which seem overwhelming and fraught with danger. You must set boundaries and adhere to them gently but firmly. The next time she comes up to you and wants to share, you should tell her that you care about her, but you are not in a place where you can provide her with the emotional support she needs. It’s kinder to talk to her frankly about what you can give her and what not. I would also like to remind her of the mental health care options she can take in the workplace. I wish you both the very best as you move forward.


I have several years of experience in my current workplace, but relatively little direct management experience. Although my employer does not have a formal training plan for new hires, I have developed training materials and try my best to actively train new colleagues. With a recent new colleague who is my direct report, there were problems and questions that I think could be answered if he listened more closely to my previous explanations or revised the directions I sent by email. However, I also realize that I may not be explaining things as well as I think. How can I balance the tension between my feeling that his performance is not meeting my expectations and the uncertainty that I am adequately providing the direction he needs?

– Anonymous, New York

Why do you doubt yourself and accept his shortcomings as evidence of your own? It is important to be accountable and open to constructive criticism, but nothing in your letter suggests that you are not giving adequate direction. His performance doesn’t live up to your expectations. This is what you must fight right now. Instead of worrying about your job, devise a strategy for dealing with his performance problems, with a plan for how he can improve, and the consequences if he fails to meet new expectations. And then you have to follow through.

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I have achieved moderate success in my career. I have gained specialized experience and am very good at the elements of my job, just good to fair in others. I could probably continue to do this for the rest of my life. It can be helpful at times, but there are many elements that I hate and in the end I feel tired rather than productive or satisfied.

Next year I will be 40 years old. I spent most of the pandemic locked in a spare room, working remotely and getting more and more burned out. I also read articles about the Great Retirement and about workers getting tired and leaving. I’m lucky to have a job when Covid-19 has turned so many lives upside down, but I’m wondering if that’s the case.

What’s the right balance between passion and pay? Should I be grateful for random moments of reward, ignore the bad, or otherwise appreciate that work is a means to an end? Or should I look for something else? Are the people who say they love their job really love their job, or is it fantastic?

– anonymous

Loving your job is not a fantasy. Indeed, there are people who love their work, are passionate about their work and are deeply satisfied. This level of professional satisfaction may be subtle, but it does exist. Most of the time, this requires a combination of hard work, risk and luck. I love what I do. Despite the fact that I have faced burnout lately, I am generally very enthusiastic about all the cool things I work on. When I finally have some peace of mind to write, I’m genuinely glad to see what I can put on the page. And it took over 20 years to get here.

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