Navigating low-ballers, busy people, and plant haters

Our advice columnist helps you determine your value in three distinct and important ways

As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In this column, Work Flow, we delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions about ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.

Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard, but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything: ideasbywe@wework.com.

I’ve been job-searching for a while. Typically, when I get an offer, I ask for a reasonable or even large sum for my salary—then the employer counters with radically less than that. At this point, I’m not really in the position to say no. Is there a way to say yes that might a) set up a path for better compensation, b) acknowledge that we both know I should get more, which might help if/when I either bounce for a better-paying job or inform them I’ve got a better offer in, like, a couple of months, and c) maintain my dignity?

Salary strategizing is worse than dating. Everyone’s keeping their cards close, trying to guess what the other person will say or do, and you’re supposed to somehow meet in the middle on the basis of being indirect. What a mess! But you’re doing things right here: Go in with a sense of what you think you deserve, whether that’s “reasonable” or “large.” Many of us have a hard time asking for something other than too little (I have made it a goal to always ask for a little more, just for practice, and I’ve found I get it more often than not). Don’t go in uninformed; do plenty of research, on the internet and among friends, into what the market rate is for compensation—and have a practiced speech making the case for why you deserve more than the average.

Also, spend some time thinking about what you really want with this job. It’s not wholly about money, generally, though, of course, work is always about money. Go beyond the realm of salary. There are ways to get “more” that don’t involve compensation: vacation days, work flexibility, office perks or benefits (phone credit? gym credit? educational subsidies?), or future opportunities to expand the role. You may be able to request a salary renegotiation after, say, six months, or bonuses for work well done (make sure this is quantitative, like selling 10,000 picnic tables in a year). The more strategic and thorough negotiation you are willing and able to do, the better sense the company has of how much you’re worth, because you know what you’re worth, and are willing to fight for it. A recent study found that almost 40 percent of people didn’t negotiate at all. You’re never going to get more money if you don’t ask for it.

As for bouncing for a better offer, your answer is in the question itself. That’s often the easiest and fastest way to get a company to up your initial salary, particularly if you’ve proven your worth in your time with them. If something better comes in, definitely bring it to the attention of your boss.

Dignity-wise, the best thing is to truly know thyself. If you feel in your gut a job is not going to be worth it, if you know you’re going to resent every single moment (and if you can afford to do so): Keep looking. According to the numbers, employment is up. Sure, a lot of that depends on your industry and your particular job needs—but you’re always worth more than what you do for a living, even when American society tries to make you feel differently.

In a culture that assigns social cachet to being “busy,” how do you avoid falling into the trap of chasing busyness as a badge of honor?

Sometimes I look at people around me who are accomplishing a lot, and I wonder how they possibly do it. So-and-so has written a third book before her second is even out? Does that successful person not sleep at all? Why is everyone else so good at what they do, and why I am achieving so little in comparison? I must be lazy, or bad, or bad and lazy.

It’s enough to make you waste an entire hour on Instagram, spiraling out as you view another’s portrayal of go-go-go success, feeling like crap all the while. But the thing is, we know very little about what others are truly giving up to get where they are, or how they’re doing it at all. We only know what they put forward for us to see, which is often a depiction of this “busyness” thing, whether it’s posting up a storm or being always available on Slack or constantly taking meetings or seemingly writing six books in the time it takes the rest of us to write one.  

This is the trap: the perception, the presumption. Tune out the busyness. It doesn’t matter. Tune out the sense of competition around you, of life being a race that you can never give up or back down on, and for which you have to keep running faster. Stop trying to keep up, to seem like you’re keeping up, because it’s a losing game. Instead, go somewhere quiet, somewhere away from the busyness noise, and look at the thing you want to do, and start to tackle it bit by bit by bit. You’ll actually be busy, then, but it will be real, and when you’re done, you’ll feel great about it rather than spent and thwarted and confused about what your purpose was in the first place. Chase the thing, not the busyness.

Also, spend more time away from social media. You’ll find you don’t miss it, and your life is oddly fuller. You’ll spend less time being “busy” and more time being happy, and isn’t that the point, really?

My whole office is moving to a new building, and my friend has a plan to take over a spare empty desk with her plants. Our other co-worker is vehemently against it. What should my friend do? What kind of person hates plants?!

Alas, unless you have permission from the boss/human resources/Mother Earth herself, it’s poor form to co-opt another desk, no matter how nice one’s plants (or portraits of clowns, or Rubik’s Cube collection, or ant farm) might be. Plant-haters might be allergic, they might be jerks, they might have prasinophobia (fear of green!), or they might just prefer the peace of an empty desk in the midst. Whatever it is, your friend should focus on her work and work on her green thumb at home, and you should do the same… but if you want to keep a plant or two at your own desks, so be it.

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