Work Drunk revisited

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February 24, 2003 // UPDATED 9:09 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

Can our hero resist the temptation of the cubicle?

When last we met, Tracie was 12 weeks into her recovery as a "Work Drunk." A self-proclaimed workaholic, Tracie, a former vice president of a Downtown corporation, had orchestrated her own lay-off last spring. During our first meeting back in September, Tracie admitted she was still fighting the urge to answer e-mails at 2 a.m. and commit activities to to-do lists.

At the time, Tracie felt she was making progress. But she's also the first to admit that she's not totally confident in her ability to refrain from being a desk jockey. Now, five months later and facing the end of her lucrative severance package in a matter of weeks, Tracie is thinking about her life away from corporate America and what it will be like when her severance runs out.

"So, how's your recovery going?" I asked Tracie over another ladies lunch, complete with red wine and dessert with our friend Lindsay.

"It's going pretty well," Tracie responded. "I've learned that it takes a lot more time to live life than it does to skip things. It takes a lot of time to have a relationship with kids. Now, every morning my 4-year-old jumps into bed in the morning and we just spend time talking about things that are important to him, like Superman and Batman."

It seemed idyllic until Tracie talked about her music lessons.

"Oh, I'm taking violin lessons -- I just learned how to play 'Go tell Aunt Grody.' I think I can get to the end of Book One by spring."

Oops, this sounded very much like a task-minded project manager setting a deadline for a new product release. I decided not to say anything, but bring the conversation back to work in general.

"How's your consulting going?"

"I did a project in California, I'm doing some volunteer work, and I'm doing a big project for my former employer," said Tracie.

"Really," I said -- red flags popping up all over the place. Working for a previous employer can be dangerous. "So, how's that going?"

"It's great," said Tracie. "They really appreciate the work that I'm doing. And I know, because of my intimate knowledge of the organization, I'm able to provide the services much more cost-effectively than another consultant would be able to do."

"Do they treat you like a consultant or an employee?"

"Definitely a consultant," said Tracie. "When I was a vice president, people tended to challenge my ideas. I was always stepping on someone else's turf. Now they just say 'thank you, thank you, thank you.' "

"You're confident that they aren't going to try to get you to come back to work?" I asked. "They haven't set up a desk for you or anything like that?"

At this point, Tracie hesitated, "Well, they did say they are giving me a cube, a phone, a computer and a Lotus Notes e-mail address."

"And you agreed to that?" Lindsay and I asked in unison -- probably a little too loudly. Lindsay went on, warning, "Once they have you working on premise, they will stop seeing you as a consultant and begin seeing you as an employee. All of your clout will disappear."

Tracie replied. "Well, I never agreed to the number of hours that I would spend there. I just said they could do that for me."

All of a sudden, it hit her. She was on a slippery slope. A dangerous place for someone who said she used to "snort work." Sounding somewhat defeated Tracie said, "It's such a seductive path. I'm doing a project I love. I'm getting compensated very well, and I only have to work 4-6 hours a day."

What will Tracie do if her client/former employer insists that she spend more time in the cube, (something that is highly likely). Will she be able to stand her ground and continue working as a consultant? Or, will the realities of the paycheck lure her back to a life she truly is glad to be rid of?

Stay tuned.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at ecentor@mn.rr.com. You can remain confidential, as can your company.