Sunday, February 6, 2011

Done At Last: Reflections On The Workplace From Hell

An acupuncturist reminded me that writing out one's stress or trauma is healthy for processing, so here's one last (maybe) vent.

I finally left my day job last month and it was hell to the very end. My former boss(es) was as critical, paranoid, distrusting and two-faced as ever. There was drama galore and though I had wanted to leave with closure, all I felt by my last day was an unabashed disgust for that company.

And weariness. I felt hypersensitive the entire weekend before my last day; everything Jifo said made me want to cry. I realized that I was finally releasing all the pent-up stress from my sh*teous two years at that place. Jifo said, "It's like PTSD." In a way it was.

I recently read a magnificent blog post about women needing to negotiate better. The part that stood out to me was when the blogger talked about a company who wouldn't match her desired salary and how she still tried to negotiate rather than walk away:

In retrospect, as low as the offer was for the field in which I work, I should have turned it down. I was a few months into my job hunt at that point, though, and not feeling very self-confident, so I accepted.

That was the job that didn't work out, at which I was employed for two days. The salary offer I received, I now realize, was an excellent clue to how I should have expected to be treated at that company.

That's EXACTLY what happened to me. I was unemployed during the recession and after six months of panic, I snatched the first offer I got. It was only supposed to be a summer job to tide me over until graduate school, but when I decided not to do grad school, I ended up taking a higher position at this company...for no raise. And I didn't chicken out either; I asked for a raise. TWICE.

Unlike this blogger, I wasn't strong enough in myself to walk away, for a variety of reasons that I've already worked through. But a big part of why I didn't quit the million times I woke up crying in the morning and wanting to, was because I felt committed to my students. I didn't want to abandon them and two of my college-bound ones have become like young friends and mentees now.

But like the blogger said, it wasn't the low-balling alone that made the workplace suck. It was how they treated their employees. There was a blame run-off that operated the way I think trickle-down economics was supposed to. My boss had a particular fondness for threatening emails that encouraged one to "seek employment elsewhere" and this terror-based structure turned groups of employees against each other. She also picked favorites, allowing some employees to skip weekly meetings, while others were told they couldn't work there if they didn't show up.

I should have quit when
  • one of the administrative staff lied to the boss about me to save her own ass and the boss wrote me an accusatory email without considering my side
  • the boss promised to do something for my student and when it wasn't done, put the blame on me
  • she wrote threatening emails any time she thought we were going "over hours", despite the hours of unpaid work I and many other employees did at home but were not allowed to bill
  • halfway through, she promised me a different position and pay structure with benefits, but when I accepted it, she tacked on a stipulation that she hadn't put in my written offer and immediately rescinded the offer when I couldn't comply with that caveat
  • a myriad of other times when I nodded, took the blame, and ate my feelings

  1. What I ended up earning the entire last year is is SO PATHETIC, especially in light of the hours I lost to sleepless nights, tears, headaches, stress, fights with Jifo, resentment and knocks on my self-esteem.
  2. At the very end, when yet another lie was told about me and this time I spoke up about it, guess what appears in the printed handout at our next meeting? Yup, a passive-aggressive rejoinder.

There were many cherished, meaningful moments to my work, all of them having to do with the teenagers that charmed me and touched me. But this is a vent about the work environment. And I'm still exhausted and angry from it.

There were times in the past when I did walk away from situations much more quickly. If you think this place sounds hostile...

I once worked for three days (unpaid) for the manager of a well-known former child star. This woman couldn't finish the work day without screaming at someone; luckily she rotated who it was. It was no surprise that she had a revolving door of assistants. She ALSO had a very personal, unprofessional way of communicating. After my FIRST DAY I was already crying when my bf at the time met me for dinner. He immediately said, "You don't have to do this." By the third night, I was calling friends going, "How much are you supposed to hate your job?"

Consider this time a lesson on never selling myself short again. And my last 30 After 30 complete.


slow panic said...

I'm so glad you've quit a situation that was so horrible. You are going to be happier now -- I'm sure you already are.

Unlikely Oilfield Wife said...

I've been where you are, waking up in the night screaming because of a job. It's the worst feeling in the world, and I'm so happy to hear that you are out of it. It will affect your mental and physical health, and it's not worth it. Here's to the next, and no doubt more fulfilling, part of your life!

thisitalianfamily said...

That sounds like such an awful position to be in! I'm so glad you quit!