Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists.
I’m Supposed to Hire Interns But Not Pay Them!
Dear Content Therapist: I’m part of a content marketing firm’s recruiting and hiring team and have been for the past year. I was recently tasked with finding interns to come on board as part of the company’s initiative to educate emerging marketers and other young professionals. I was excited, but the problem is the company wanted this to be an unpaid program. As someone with a fair share of unpaid internships under my belt, I could tell that this move wouldn’t attract the candidates they wanted. I know there has been a huge discussion around paying all interns, but the heads of the company are sticking to giving the interns a “free” experience without having to take on that cost. I feel there should be a compromise, especially if we want this program to succeed. How can I bring this up to my boss without risking the program? — FORMER UNPAID INTERN.
Paul Chaney: You can’t reach a compromise without a conversation, so set a time to speak with your boss. Be respectful of the company’s position, but try to get to the root of why the leadership took its stance.
You say there has been a “huge discussion” regarding the matter. Have you been privy to any of it? Is it strictly a budgetary issue, or are other factors at play? For example, a paid intern is not a separate employment class from a W-2 employee or 1099 contractor. Maybe the company doesn’t want to deal with the regulations. There’s also the question of how much to pay interns. Has that been part of the discussion?
Understanding leadership’s position is the first step to reaching a healthy compromise, regardless of the reasons presented. If your boss is willing to listen, explain why paying interns is a good idea. You could suggest that it’s the best way to attract qualified candidates while enabling the company to hold them to certain standards (e.g., showing up on time, producing quality work, etc.).
Find real-world examples of unpaid internship programs that failed (and why) — and paid programs that succeeded. Support your argument with as many benefits and reasons as possible.
Despite your best efforts, you may have to accept the company’s position, even if it is only to offer a “free experience.” Do your best to find good candidates, but also make a solid plan of action in case you are right.
Sometimes, the only way to learn is through experience, and leadership is no exception. If you can step in with a detailed plan that offsets any objections, perhaps you will have their ear.
Am I Being Quietly Fired Because of My Age?!
Dear Content Therapist: I have been the research director at a small company for 15 years. The company was wrested from the founders in a family dispute, and I am 30 years older than any other employee. Lately, my normal writing assignments are going to others, my emails go unanswered, my work is not acknowledged, and, to be petty, my supervisor did not sign a group birthday card nor present a gift (as has been done for those 15 years). I am also not told of time changes for meetings. Am I being quietly fired? — THE PUSHED-OUT DIRECTOR
Paul Chaney: The signs do seem to point in that direction. Employers sometimes use “quiet firing” techniques despite it being a disturbingly passive-aggressive way to address workplace performance management issues.
That said, I would advise you not to make assumptions. Perhaps the new owners are simply inept and lack good management skills. The real question is, what can and should you do about it?
One, you could investigate to see if other employees are treated similarly. That might strengthen your belief that “quiet firing” tactics are being used, and not just on you.
Two, you could also speak to your manager. There is enough evidence to warrant a conversation. Getting all the cards on the table may lead to an honest discussion about your future. Hopefully, they will take your concerns seriously. However, you also run the risk of sounding petty, so weigh that in the balance.
If you feel age discrimination is at play, talk to human resources or seek advice from an attorney. Knowing your rights is empowering.
Of course, there’s always the option to look for employment elsewhere. It sounds like you’re imminently qualified. You could also “quietly quit” and do the bare minimum, but that’s a matter of conscience and can be as much a passive-aggressive tactic as “quiet firing.”
Perhaps the best approach, along with the above, is to keep doing your job well and ignore their slights. At one job where I felt unappreciated, my boss told me I received appreciation every two weeks in the form of a paycheck. (While it wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, he would have already shown me the door if I weren’t doing a good job.)
Of all the decisions you could make, the most important is to protect your mental and emotional health. Don’t allow these slights to cause you to feel demoralized, depressed or anxious. If that’s happening, seek out a counselor or therapist for help. Be your own best friend and advocate.