My Colleagues Have Great Work-Life Balance (Thanks to Childless Me)


I work as a product manager at a small start-up. I’m only two years out of college, and recently, I was thrust into a new role. I’m excited. However, I’ve been dropping several balls. I’ve failed to communicate with my internal teammates about a new project’s timeline. I also haven’t done a great job figuring out how to scope this project. On top of all this, my boss told me I need to be able to confidently do this job by January — which would give me a senior title and big raise — or will need to find a new role, probably at a different company. I’m proud of how I’ve been able to work with our external customers, but I can’t help but feel awful for how much I’ve let down my co-workers and been unable to do basic project management. My boss is superbusy with another project so I have limited support and direction.

Should I just quit? I have constant stress headaches and don’t have any brain energy to find a new company.

— Anonymous

You’re being too hard on yourself. It is challenging and, perhaps, intimidating to take on new responsibilities. It is normal to be overwhelmed as you adapt and learn new skills. With little direction and so many new tasks, of course you’re making mistakes. It is unrealistic to expect that you would instantly be perfect in your new role. I would be worried if you didn’t possess so much self-awareness, if you thought everything was going great, if you didn’t care about how your performance is affecting your colleagues. You’re clear on where you need to improve and that’s important. You can solve a problem only if you are aware a problem exists.

Set aside some time to identify what it will take to bridge the distance between where you are and where you need to be. Develop a plan for doing that work. Though your boss is busy, schedule some time to sit down with him or her and discuss your concerns, and ask for support. Project management and communication strategies can be learned, and you are more than capable.

Now, I get the impression that your boss expects you to thrive despite being thrown into the deep end. He may not be willing to do his job in providing mentorship, so I would also identify other colleagues who can support you in this new role. You shouldn’t quit your job unless that is, in fact, what you really want. The stress headaches and negative feelings will dissipate as you improve in your role. You’re actually doing great. I would worry less about the ways in which you are falling short, because you can and will address those issues. At least some of your time and energy are better spent acknowledging what you’re doing well, what you did to merit the expanded role and your willingness to rise to the challenge.

I’m a chief of staff at a start-up. One of my team members is a chronic underperformer. He’s not only a bad fit for this job but the role in general.

Coaching has not been successful; he thinks our expectations are too high. I can assure you they are not. His principals and I put him on an improvement plan just before the pandemic. In ordinary times, I would have recommended letting him go. But none of us can stomach firing him during a time of massive unemployment. The current plan is to transition him to another role, but the budget is tight and I don’t see that happening until next year at the earliest.

Managing complaints from colleagues and coaching him through fires (often preventable) is really wearing me down. Since it’s not possible to move him, fire him or hire someone else, what can I do to keep this situation from taking over my work hours?

— Anonymous

This chronic underperformer is so very lucky, and this situation is ridiculous.

Come on! I never want to see anyone lose their job. I believe people should be given the time, space and mentoring to improve when they fall short. But you and your colleagues have given this man these tools, he has failed to use them, and now you’re giving him carte blanche to remain mediocre. That is neither realistic nor sustainable. It is not fair to his colleagues that he is being held to no standard. What’s worse is that you’re not asking how to hold him accountable or create actionable consequences for his failures. Instead, you’re asking how you can further contort yourself to keep the chronic underperformer in his cosseted bubble of mediocrity.


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