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How can I stop my bosses from taking advantage of me?

Dear Ed,

What should I do if I feel like my internship is abusing me? I’ve been working 15 hour days, have e-mails filling up my inbox on days I’m not even in the office, and garner more responsibility than any other intern I know. I’m a firm believer in hard work and paying one’s dues, but I need to be getting paid for this! It’s been 5 months and I’ve had the prospect of paid work offered, then retracted. I don’t want to burn any bridges but I’m on the verge of an epic breakdown! Is there a way to try to make this situation work out for me?


*Name changed

Dear Emma,

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at work–everyone feels that way sometimes. The first thing you should do is make a list of everything you do at your internship. Then prioritize the work. Are there things that you’re doing that you don’t need to do every day? Sometimes it helps to put all of your responsibilities into perspective when you have them all listed in front of you.

If you still feel as though you can’t cut back on anything or fit all of your tasks into your days, you should schedule a time to speak with your boss/intern supervisor. Instead of complaining or saying that you feel abused, explain that you really love the internship and that you are very grateful for the opportunity, but that you are feeling a bit overwhelmed. Ask if they be willing to go over your daily responsibilities with you so that maybe they could tell you what you do and don’t need to make a priority. Your boss might not even be aware of everything you do, and this meeting could remove some pressure from your workload.

As for the “prospect of paid work offered, then retracted” comment, if they said the internship would become a full-time, paid position, set up a meeting with your boss about it. Explain that you really would love to be able to transition from intern to freelance (or even full-time) staff, and that you were very optimistic about that happening when they offered you the opportunity for paid work. They should be able to give you an answer if that’s a realistic goal or not. Hopefully they’ll have a timeline for you–either immediately (which would be the best answer!) or they might say in a month which is a signal for you to follow up again at that time. If they can’t give you a direct answer, you need to make the decision–look for a new internship/job, or wait it out. If you decide to leave, do it on good terms by offering to train your replacement–or even suggesting a replacement if you know someone–and you won’t be burning a bridge.

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