Annie's Mailbox: Feeling trapped and understaffed

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Dear Annie: A few years ago, the company I work for laid off a number of employees. This had a devastating effect on morale, but those of us who remained picked up the slack.

The situation hasn't improved, and 10-hour days are still the norm. I go in early and stay late to do the necessary paperwork. Because we are understaffed, everyone else also is overworked. If I don't do it, it won't get done.

My wife suggested I work my regular shift, and that if the work doesn't get done, someone higher up finally would realize there is a problem. This is really not an option. I feel personally responsible for my department, and if things are left unfinished, innocent people will suffer.

I worry constantly. It keeps me up at night. I cannot get more help as the company has an ongoing hiring freeze. I enjoy what I do when I'm not constantly overworked and stressed out. For several reasons, changing jobs is not possible at this time. I feel trapped. Any suggestions?

- Sleepless in the Suburbs

Dear Sleepless: Many employers keep expenses down by making employees do the work of two (or three). Unfortunately, in the current economic situation, the alternative is sometimes to close up shop altogether. If your company can afford to hire more workers but refuses, it means you are being taken advantage of, and your wife's suggestion is valid. If, however, the company is teetering on the brink of insolvency, you don't have a lot of options. You need to find a way to de-stress.

Do you have a relaxing hobby you can devote time to on a weekend?

How about scheduling dinner and a movie once a week? A half-hour at the gym can work wonders for your psyche, and don't discount the benefits of a long, hot shower or bath.

Dear Annie: I am embarrassed to admit this, but I am jealous of my boyfriend's two daughters from his previous marriage. I love his children and know they should be the most important people in his life.

But shouldn't we have our own time, as well? His children are included in everything, even adult New Year's Eve parties.

He would never consider getting a baby-sitter because he misses his children so much when they are with their mother and doesn't want to leave their side when they are spending time with him.

Is there a time and place for children to be present, or am I just overreacting?

- Shamefully Jealous

Dear Jealous: Your boyfriend is having a common divorce-guilt reaction. He's trying to make up to his daughters for the time he doesn't spend with them, but he's overdoing it by allowing them to attend adult parties and interfere with his romantic relationships. The girls do need to come first, however. Try to find a way to incorporate them into as many activities as you can, while gently informing your boyfriend that overindulgence does them no favors.

Dear Annie: I feel so sad for the women who are ashamed to have guests in their homes. I'm 60 and have lived in everything from a camp trailer to a five-bedroom home.

While a young military wife, I was blessed to participate in a women's study called The Gracious Woman. I learned that a gracious woman makes people feel comfortable in her home, whether it is a hovel or a palace. The key is focusing on the comfort of your guest, not yourself.

Most people are genuinely honored to be invited to share a bit of your life. If "friends" turn up their noses at what you have to offer, it's their problem, not yours. Gracious living is possible at any economic level.

- Shreveport, La.

Dear Shreveport: A lovely idea, although for some it is easier said than done.

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