Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to email@example.com. Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.
Costs of Living
I live and work in a small European country where the cost of living is less than in the United States. I have someone clean for a half day each week. When I asked for her hourly rate when I hired her, she told me a price much lower than I expected and much lower than I paid in the U.S. I asked several sources, and it seemed to be about the “going rate” for household cleaning. I thought it was enough to be a living wage. It is clear to me now that it is not, and we have raised it to a more just level, I hope.
But I would appreciate your thoughts on how to determine if you are being a just employer when you are a temporary resident of a foreign culture. I am pretty sure some co-workers would think me foolish for paying above the norm, and some would — and have — argued that I am doing her a long-term disservice, because she is unlikely to get the same salary from her next employer. I’m OK with being thought foolish but hope the second part is wrong. What do you think?
There is nothing foolish about paying someone well or, at the very least, paying them fairly. The mental gymnastics your co-workers are engaging in by suggesting you are doing someone a disservice by paying them too much, are ridiculous. It is a poor reflection on them and how they value the people among whom they live and work. In general, yes, you pay people the wage expected for a local area, but this is not something that should be exploited. The reality is that, particularly for domestic work, people are almost always underpaid. You are not paying your employee too much. In fact, pay her more. Treat her kindly and respectfully. Treat her the same way you would treat an American employee whose labor you value. That is the just thing to do.
No More Social Media
I am a photo archivist for a large corporation, recently hired to preserve its historic photography collection. As I process the images, I pull out interesting photos each month to create an internal newsletter showing ones never seen before. Naturally, the social media group wants to use them, and I provide those I have scanned and search for others on request. Recently, members of that team have asked me to write copy for Facebook and Instagram posts. I have done it, but I don’t love it, mostly because the posts are written as a quote with my name attached. I’m comfortable writing background information, not copywriting. Now they are asking me to “do little videos, just 30 seconds long” to talk about my favorite photos. I have severe stage fright and no desire to be on social media. I have expressed my concerns and they are dismissed, and even laughed at. The head of social media used to be a television news reporter, is always camera-ready, and doesn’t understand my trepidation.
I am lucky to have kept this nonessential job during the pandemic and I don’t want to be seen as difficult, but shouldn’t the social media department create this content? Am I out of line?
— Anonymous, Colorado
You are not out of line to not want to add social media content creation to your workload. That is a specialized field beyond your purview. You are not difficult for having professional boundaries and thus far, you have been as much a team player as anyone could expect. That’s lovely of you and it’s something most of us are willing to do, within reason. I am guessing you’re being asked to do this work because as the archivist, you’re the person who works with these images every day and knows them best. That said, you clearly don’t want to do it. Your concerns matter and shouldn’t be dismissed or mocked. Given that your reluctance to make these posts is related to both stage fright and an aversion to social media, it would be totally reasonable to say you’re not willing to do it. Hold that line. It’s also often easier to say no to a request by offering an alternative. Maybe suggest that you can offer two or three talking points for others to draw from as they produce the videos. I don’t get the impression that you report to the social media team, so if you can’t work this out with them, it may be time to discuss the issue with your supervisor so that he or she can clarify, to the social media team, your work responsibilities, and allow you to do the work you were hired for and do best.
Terrible Taxidermy Décor
I am a staff member at a public institution of higher education. The current occupant of the office adjacent to my work area has chosen to display a very large mounted moose trophy. I realize that I live in a region where outdoor sporting activities are popular, and I am not trying to judge how this individual spends time outside of work. I just don’t want this big dead moose head bumming me out every time I see it. (The office is close to our nearest exit.) This sort of display might be appropriate for a faculty member of the College of Natural Resources or Animal Sciences, but this is facilities services and it feels a little inappropriate. Any advice for how to approach someone about offensive office décor?
— Anonymous, Pacific Northwest
You’re absolutely entitled to your opinions about office décor, but you don’t get to impose your aesthetic will on others. What you deem offensive is clearly not what your colleague deems offensive. While some find hunting objectionable, with good reason, the moose trophy is not glorifying hate speech or bigotry. It’s not pornography. And it isn’t atypical for your region. I cannot begin to fathom why someone would mount a moose trophy in their office, but I am sure there are people who can’t understand why I have a Channing Tatum prayer candle and a portrait of Mr. Rogers as a saint, in mine. This is something you will probably have to learn to live with. Look away! Avert your eyes! Whatever you do, do not approach your colleague unless the moose is wearing, say, a Klan robe, in which case, by all means, do have that conversation.
Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.