Coping With On-The-Job Frustration
As a devoted reader of Chronicles, I must say that what I enjoy most about your column is its frank, outspoken style. Somehow you’ve managed to take on sensitive topics without making the reader squirm with discomfort. Over the years I’ve seen you deal with problems concerning marital infidelities, child abuse, the gay issue, mental depression, infertility, etc., among other ills that plague our communities, in a dignified and forthright manner.
You’ve also written about women in the workplace, but I’ve yet to read of nursing women in the workplace. Here’s my dilemma: For well over a decade now I’ve held an important position in a large government-affiliated office for a high-ranking official. I started working there in my single years and eventually got married and started a family.
I’ve always been diligent in my attendance and worked through nine months of pregnancy, virtually until going into labor. Though I could technically apply for a maternity leave of absence of up to one year, I have consistently opted for a more reasonable three months, in the interest of not wishing to create undue hardship for my boss. And needless to say, my paycheck comes in handy. (For the record, maternity leave is unpaid leave; vacation and sick days run out in no time.)
As a nursing mother, I am left with one alternative: to pump and store my milk during the day/working hours. No, my place does not provide a baby-sitting service, and no, I did not insist on nursing on the job. All I respectfully asked for was two breaks a day and a room to accommodate my need. Thank G-d portable machines with all the vital gadgets to keep the pumped milk fresh are widely available in this day and age.
Our floor has a public restroom, public meaning for non-employees who come and go during the course of the day. Not practical for my need, and not suitably sanitary. We have a small restroom for our office staff, or I can make use of the facilities on other floors – which would mean infringing on personnel not associated with us, as well as wasted time commuting.
Our staff restroom does the job (it has an electrical outlet and a window sill on which to rest my knapsack) and I let my co-workers know beforehand that I will be occupying it for a half hour or so. Not that I must announce it, but out of decency I alert them so they can opt to use it before I lock myself in, and of-course in this way I assure myself complete privacy without disruption.
At this point I should divulge that my boss is an Orthodox Jewish male. Since he is heavily reliant on me, I need to let him know when I will be inaccessible. This is not a big deal; we are all mature adults and as a married man with grown children, he knows about these things.
And still, I can’t count how many times he has berated me for not being around or for taking so long. He either had a sudden need of the facilities when they were “occupied,” or something important came up and I put him on the spot by not being available to him. The situation improved to some degree when I recently finagled access to a conference-like room seldom in use. In this way, the restroom remains accessible to my boss who for some reason manages to need it just when I’m in there.
Like I said, this has eased a bit of the tension. However, lately my boss has taken to teasing me relentlessly about my “extracurricular” activity. As the day winds down and most of the staff have already gone (he has a very demanding position with an inordinately grueling itinerary), he often sits down and gets into amiable chat-mode (contrary to his hard-hitting persona during working hours). The other day when he complained to me about a difficult employee who is always in need of something, he managed to quip: “Need this, need that, need to pump…”
When I didn’t smile at his joke, he chided me for being so serious. I actually found the whole thing demeaning and degrading rather than humorous and thought to myself, one more “joke” on the subject and I’m out of there until I wean. Then today when I approached him to let him know I’d be on my break (the conference room was unavailable so I had no choice but to tell him I’d be occupying the restroom), he asked for how long. When I answered “close to 30 minutes,” he turned to a male clerk nearby and said, “Now that’s what I call milking the system.”
My question to you, Rachel: Am I being too sensitive? I’ve been told I’m overreacting and that this is just the boss’s way of alleviating some of the strain of a stressful environment. Maybe so, but I see myself being used as his punching bag and frankly don’t like it.
Your take please…
You talk of your employer’s job as demanding, yet it is clearly you who is being challenged to the hilt. You are balancing motherhood and a career (never easy) and are, to boot, front and center in your role at the office.
You don’t mention how long it’s been since you returned to work following the birth of your baby, but you might still be in the throes of postpartum anxiety. Hormones, including those associated with breastfeeding, run helter-skelter in new mothers. Add to that the uneasiness you experience over your 30-minute breaks and it’s no wonder you don’t find the humor in your employer’s tactless comments.
As you’ve held this position for many years now, one must assume it’s been worth your while – in which case you are realistically not ready to give it up. Furthermore, your boss treats you as his confidante (talking things over with you at the end of the day), evidently holding you in high regard.
Presuming his day is as harried as you indicate, his quips may indeed be his way of unwinding and/or his attempt to make nice, in his awareness of having given you flack by day. This downtime is ideal for letting him know that you don’t get paid enough to be harassed for no good reason and that for each time he persists on picking on you from now on, you will simply treat yourself to a day off. Then do exactly that until he gets the message.
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