Bullish: On Managing Slackers When You Have No Power (And/Or Being A Solitary Unicorn)

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Jennifer Dziura writes career and life advice weekly on TheGloss. Here is an archive, and here is an archive of Bullish columns from our sister site TheGrindstone.

I’m a 21-year old from Europe, with no real qualifications or job experiences. I’m taking evening classes now, trying to get my high-school degree after all, apply to university (applied mathematics seems interesting, so does artificial intelligence) and see where it goes from there. I’m a decent writer, but a degree in creative writing, language or journalism (like my friends and acquaintances expect from me) won’t land me a career. A career as science-journalist actually may be worth pursuing. Thinking about my future-self seems important.

The one job I do have has to do with writing, it’s as a volunteer at the local radio-station. We’re all friends there, before the radio even started. It’s a small town where the same people are seen everywhere, especially when it comes to those who volunteer. I’m working, mostly from home, as an editor. I make sure the news gets found and gets published on the website (or Facebook).

Since last April, I’m the managing editor. One woman works above me. There are two people in my small team that I have to manage. Everyone works as a volunteer.

The problem is that the guy I am managing is a good friend of mine. Yet, his writing sucks. It keeps getting worse, he seems lazy and uninterested, unless he gets to go to events to make photos. Even then, it takes him a week to sort those photos – they’re outdated by then. I’ve tried to tell him nicely that it’s really annoying that he keeps making basic mistakes in spelling and forgetting deadlines, but he seems to avoid giving any real answers. We need all the editors we have — otherwise, this may just turn into a full-time job for me and the chief editor. I can’t say, “Well, email me your articles, I’ll check them and then post them.” I’ve done that before and it’s time-consuming.

I feel like I have no authority over him. I may be younger, with less experience, but I know I’m a better writer than he is.

How should I deal with this? How can I ever manage a small team, learn how to delegate tasks and figure out a way to assert some authority based on skills, not age or knowledge, without ruining friendships?

Congratulations on going back to school, and I’m glad you’re thinking about more quantitative fields. (See last week’s, Bullish: High-Paying, Women-Friendly Tech Jobs Are Out There, Even if You Majored in Art.)

There are really just too many smart, hardworking women trying to do freelance writing, journalism, media, etc. Even if you are the best of all those women, the sheer volume of competition — and the presence of so many people willing to work free or cheap — drives down wages. The starting salary of any kind of engineer is typically more than most media jobs will ever pay. And personally, the quantitative side of my various professions really subsidizes the other things I want to do: there would be no Bullish if other people weren’t paying me to teach and write about math.

Now to your question. In a volunteer job, you don’t really have a lot of power — you can’t really promote or fire the guy, right? But even if you were all being paid, it is TOTALLY likely and normal that you would be asked to manage someone that you don’t have the ability to promote or fire. So you (often) can’t manage via a system of threats and rewards.

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    • Anonymous

      To be fair, a lot of the major tech companies (Microsoft, Google, Amazon) have career paths for talented employees that aren’t interested in the management route. In some ways it can be more challenging but I have lots of friends and colleagues that have successfully gone this route.