Ask a Grown-Ass Woman: To Dye or Not to Dye

Is My Job Exploiting Me?

Dear TueNight,

Last semester, I was dropped from a full-time instructor role to a part-time schedule, so I’m making a third of what I used to. It’s not just me — this semester, they did the same to most of my coworkers.  

My boss recently asked me to come in to train another employee for a couple hours. I agreed to do it, but then got into an argument about it with my life partner: He thinks I’m being exploited and that I should ask for more compensation if I’m going to do something like that. Not to mention that he doesn’t think it’s completely COVID-safe.

I feel bad that the students might be missing out if no one can train this person, and I don’t feel like I’m being exploited. However, does my philosophy of taking pay where I can get it undermine the higher rate that I should be asking for? Am I being exploited by a company that has no compunction to drop me to part-time after 14 years of full-time work?

Underemployed in CA

Dear Underemployed:

First off, let me just commiserate: UGH! Losing full-time employment at any time is stressful. Losing it during a pandemic is whoa-stressful. I’m glad you have some hours of dependable work, even though it isn’t enough.

I admire that your partner wants to defend you and doesn’t want to see you taken advantage of. But — and this is a big-deal BUT — making some additional money is definitely better than NOT making some, amirite? I think you did the responsible and sensible thing, considering both your situation and this current moment in the U.S. economy.

But let’s unpack a little further, to soothe your mind, and maybe your partner’s. (I will leave COVID safety aside and assume that you and the institution both know how to follow protocol.) Staying close to an institution that knows you, formerly employed you full time, and reached out to you with an opportunity is clearly a savvy move. Why? 

  1. They may hire people back full time as the economy recovers. You want to be top of mind. It is always, always, always easier to get hired where you are known than to find a new gig. 
  2. You know now that you weren’t let loose first because they thought you sucked. They wouldn’t have called you back if that were the case. This then relates back to: good to be known.
  3. You agreed to take the work partly because you care about the institution and the students’ experiences there. I’m betting that shows in your work.

So, aside from being a smart move for short-term cash flow, I think it’s a smart move for long-term strategy. Which is probably why you don’t feel exploited. You have a relationship to your place of work, and you are recognizing the current reality. All good.

Now let’s talk about the rate, because “exploited” is a pretty heavy word. Are you making a mere fraction of what you made as a FT employee, hourly? Okay, well, that sucks. But accepting to do a gig for a few hours a week isn’t really the kind of situation where anyone is in a position to negotiate. I mean, maybe you could have said, “Ah, I see, $18 an hour? Is there any chance you can make that $22 an hour?” But it sounds like this is a fill-in kind of sitch, and they probably decided they had X dollars they could put toward it and offered you those dollars. So, I wouldn’t sweat it.

Instead of worrying that they are taking advantage of you, put your energy toward being “all ears” when you are working to see what you can glean about the bigger picture of how things are going, whether they are struggling with too few students or a penny-pinching administration, and when (and if) they’ll be staffing up. Again, you’re on the inside. So, from there you are in a way stronger position to look for the right moment to raise your hand and ask for more hours or more money or more responsibilities (which can lead to more hours and more money). 

As for your partner, just thank him for supporting you and defending you and say you know he thinks you’re the bee’s knees and should be paid all the money all the time. But point out to him what feels obvious to you: You know this place and were happy (or happy enough) there for 14 years, so giving a little to them while you’re pocketing some extra cash feels right to you. 

And then let him know of course you’re still keeping your head up for a full-time job somewhere else, just in case your org doesn’t rebound as fast as the rest of them do. And remember this: It will look great on your resume that you were valued enough that after a downsizing, your institution called you back in for help. And that fact is something that will keep paying forward for you, whether in this job or the next.

We’re not experts, just women who have been there, done that. (So, always take our advice with a grain of salt!) Want to submit a question to Ask a Grown-Ass Woman? Email us at with the subject line AAGAW.

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