UK: WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM.

UK: WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM. - LESSON PLAN IN LIVING

by JEREMY BULLMORE, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now adirector of Guardian Media Group and WPP.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

LESSON PLAN IN LIVING

I work for a small but high-powered management consultancy. I like my work, the pay is excellent, but my hours are ridiculous. I feel I have no life. So I applied for and have been offered a university post, teaching business to graduates. I worry that, if I take the job, I may find teaching isn't for me and by then I'll be trapped in a backwater.

You don't tell me your age, nor whether you're bowed down by dependants, mortgages, school fees or other choice-restricting obligations. From what you say, money doesn't seem to be paramount. So, on the assumption that you're 35 or under, and reasonably debt and fancy free, my advice would be to take the academic post.

Most people who complain about working ridiculous hours and having no life never get around to doing anything about it. You have - which suggests you're serious.

And it doesn't, of course, have to be a backwater - nor does it have to be for ever. One of the better things about Britain over the last 10 years or so has been the disintegration of some of the traditional firewalls between occupations and professions. It's no longer impossible to go from consulting to teaching - and back again, if need be. It's also a great deal more acceptable to do two or more things at the same time. So you could start teaching - and keep on a certain amount of private consultancy.

Most university business departments actively encourage this sort of work; it keeps you (and them) in touch with what's going on.

As for whether teaching is for you - you'll never know until you try.

Think seriously about writing and publishing on your strongest subject.

You may never have such long vacations again. And if, after three or four years, you find the teaching part has become boring and repetitive, get back to business (not necessarily consultancy) - with your CV and reputation enhanced. You might also have learnt how to work and live a life at the same time.

SEXIST SHIRT TALE

My managing director is making me feel uncomfortable. I am a female account manager at a PR firm. He asked me to go with him to a client meeting.

The client's offices are nearby, so we set out on foot. But the meeting was a ruse. Instead, he stopped at a shirt shop and asked me to pick him out the shirts I liked. I refused and now there is an atmosphere between us. Did I do the right thing?

You may have done the right thing, but by the sound of it you didn't do it in the right way. You made the instant assumption your MD's motives were far from professional - and I'm sure you're right. (It sounds as if he's already attached, and you don't seem to like him much anyway.) His ruse, of course, was designed to test your reaction - without leaving himself open to outright rejection. In his dreams, no doubt, you accepted his suggestion with delight, held up a shirt to see if it matched his eyes and then suggested that he might like to buy one for you as well because you always wear men's shirts in bed. That would have made him a very happy managing director, indeed.

Instead, you cut him off at the knees, making an open assumption about his motives and no attempt whatever to preserve his self-esteem. Hence the atmosphere. The fact that he deserved every bit of it is neither here nor there; it's the working relationship you're concerned about.

What could you have done? It's never easy to think of nifty wheezes on the spur of the moment, but it might have got interesting if you'd said: 'Oh, I'm hopeless on men's shirts. But Derek's terrific. He's picking me up this evening - so why don't we all three come back then?' Come to think of it, bringing Derek into the conversation from now on (even if he doesn't exist) might encourage your predatory boss to go hunting elsewhere.

TABLE THE GAY ISSUE

A senior partner at my law firm has asked me to a lunch party at his house. He suggested I bring my other half. The problem is he is clearly expecting (and would prefer) that I arrive with a girlfriend - but I'm gay. Do I pretend I have no partner, bring a female friend or take my male partner?

I just hope you haven't led him to believe that you're straight. If so, you're in a smallish pickle of your making. If not, this could be the perfect opportunity for you to sort things out. The key is the lunch party.

Events like this one tend to have table seating plans. So say to the senior partner: 'I'm very grateful to you and your wife for the invitation. As it happens, my other half is a man - and I can quite see that this might throw out your seating plan. Why don't you talk it over with your wife?

For my part, I'd be equally happy to come with my partner, come with a girlfriend, come on my own - or not come at all. Do please let me know which would suit you best.' Exact words are important here - so you might find it easier to do it in a handwritten note. It also gives the senior partner and his wife a little longer to adjust their facial expressions and any prejudices.

If their response suggests your homosexuality is likely to prove a serious handicap to you in your career, then you should move to a more enlightened firm as soon as possible. Nobody should have to live a lie.

Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W67JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably no correspondence can be entered into.

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