Career Troubles

by Evil HR Lady on October 31, 2007

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I need some impartial feedback on my current job situation that is causing me massive amounts of stress. I feel perplexed and overwhelmed and don’t know if this is something I can change or something that I need to accept or move on from. You do not need to publish my letter, but if you could provide me with any thoughts, I’d greatly appreciate them.

First, I’ll detail a bit of my work history for you so you can see where I’ve been.

Job #1
Length of employment: 4.5 years
Satisfaction Level: Moderate – a steady (but meager) paycheck, but minor perks (flexible work hours, 5 min. commute, etc.) that made it decent. The work itself was rather mindless.
Reason for leaving: A job that was initially described to me as “entry level with no room for advancement” that truly was just that. I stayed for quite a while and there was no room for me to gain responsibilities. It was great for right out of college…but I was hungry for more.

Job #2
Length of employment: 8 months
Satisfaction Level: HIGH! Worked for a company that I LOVED, doing something that was challenging and interesting, making significantly more money than previous job, working with a great group who I’m still friends with today.
Reason for leaving: A month after I was hired, it was announced that the company was acquired and that the aquiring company would be dominating. Anyone that wished to stay on would be required to move from the current location (PA) to the dominant company’s location (TX). I left at the first “decent” opportunity that was presented to me after this announcement (though I lingered on for a bit) as my severence would have been only 1 month’s worth.

Job #3
Length of employment: 3 months
Satisfaction Level: LOW. The three departments managed that were managed by a particular VP regularly experienced complete turnover in less than a year. Commute time was unbearable (during my interviews, traffic was not at it’s peak and I underestimated this. My fault entirely).
Reason for leaving: See above. Additionally, a manager of another department at Job 2 came here to be my manager. She immediately began job hunting and left shortly after I did.

Job #4
Length of employment: 1.3 years
Satisfaction Level: Varied. Perks: High (free benefits, decent salary for area, low commute time, good PTO plan, hands-off boss) Job Itself: High – when actually given work to do. Boss was fed up and looking for a new job during my entire tenure here. Her attitude prevented her from fighting for my ideas and did not provide me adequate support. Another issue is that my position was newly created and I floundered for at least 6 months b/c no one had a clear expectation of what I was to be doing.
Reason for leaving: Lack of boss support (from someone who i liked as a person), instability (CEO who restructured my entire department 2 times before I came, once while I was there and once again since I left. Eliminating 3 positions total w/in the department)

Job #5
Length of employment: June to present
Satisfaction Level: Low – due to commute time (changed once school was back in session), boss, one co-worker, duties at times. High – with some particular duties and the company itself.
Issues:
1. My boss “the VP” (whom I report to) is a difficult personality for me.
The good: She has the ear of our CEO. Since I have started here, compliments have been coming in from those I’ve worked with and the ‘complimenters’ have passed along the praise to my boss. She has passed along the praise to our CEO. She does compliment me from time to time.
The bad: She’s a snob and belittling. Very domineering in that she will literally talk over me and not give me an opportunity to explain my thinking. She has a tendency to micromanage.
2. The duties. I’m being paid significantly more than my last job, but given the duties of an admin. I definitely don’t mind pitching in to help with these…but this shouldn’t be my primary focus at this point in my career. Something I made clear to my boss during hte interview process.
3. The “manager” – I do not directly report to this person, yet she seems to have the authority to assign me tasks. She’s made it clear to me that she’s done a lot of things that are now my responsibility (I am again, in a newly created position) and has difficulty surrendering the things she considers “fun” to me. Therefore she passes along all the stuff she doesn’t enjoy to me.

I’ve tried talking to Manager, she’s seemed to understand/agree with my concerns, but then goes back to the way she has been doing things. Another co-worker is a friend from a previous job. I’ve discussed my issue with her and she understands but her duties don’t align with this manager, so it’s not an issue for her. I’ve contemplated discussing this with MY boss, but I fear 2 things.
1. She’s very reactionary. I don’t want to create a BIG issue…just have her understand my frustrations.
2. I fear her saying somethign to Manager and having her become even worse/snarky. She is a single working mom and seems to really value her career, which is understandable. But she also seems to feel that it defines her.

So…to make a long story short (too late, I know), I’m torn between looking for a new job or trying to make this one work. I just feel since I’ve left Job 2, which was PERFECT, I’ve become the square peg trying to fit into the round hole and nothing has been quite right. I also realize that I’m probably looking like a job hopper right now. I don’t want to be…but I want to be happy.

So, dear HR Lady, is it me? Am I a bad employee? Am I picking the wrong jobs? How do I know if it’s the “right” job? Or am I just destined to be unhappy?

Any advice you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!!

Since it is Halloween night (and I keep getting interrupted by strangely dressed young people asking for candy) I gazed into my crystal ball and discovered this: You ARE destined for unhappiness.

So sorry. I suggest you don’t purchase any lottery tickets either.

All right, all right, some of this is your own making. Some of this is bad luck. Here are the things that are of your own making:

1. Commute time. You really, really, really need to get a handle on that. Sure, major contstruction problems can cause unexpected delays, but other than that, you should be aware. Always do the expected commute during rush hour if commute time is important to you.

2. Picking bad bosses. What? Bosses don’t pick you? Well, they do, but you also pick them. It’s called recruiting because the company is trying to recruit you. You should be interviewing them as well as being interviewed. They don’t want to hire a bad fit, and you certainly don’t want to be hired into a bad fit. I’m betting you paid more attention to the title and salary than you did the actual boss. Company cultures are extremely important as well. Some people just “don’t fit.”

3. Expecting other people to explain things to you. That job with the unclear job resonsibilities? It should have been resolved within the first few weeks. You should have taken the lead. (Technically, it’s not your responsibility, it’s the manager’s–and they shouldn’t have been recruiting without at least a basic understanding of the responsibilities for the position–but they didn’t. So you have to.)

Now, other things are definitely beyond your control. A new boss transferred in, for instance, or the old boss quitting. (And FYI you bosses out there who are planning to quit. Knock off the new hires will you? It’s unfair to hire someone and then on their first day inform them that you’re leaving at the end of the week and you don’t know who their new supervisor will be.)

Research on the company is super important. You probably could have learned that they were a takeover target if you had done your research. Did you understand their current financial state before you interviewed? I actually think very few people do the research they really should do. Yes, they find out about the job and aspects of the company that pertain to that particular job, but forget to look at the overall health of the company.

So, what should you do? First, stop looking for bliss at work. Second, stop letting the bad portions overshadow the good. Third, stick out your current job for at least a year, preferrably two or three years. There are going to be people out there that vehemently disagree with me on this one, but you don’t haven’t had any long term jobs since your first one. This makes you less desireable on the hiring side. The potential manager is going to say, “what is wrong with this person?”

Yes, usually I advocate getting out when you realize you’ve made a mistake, but you’ve been doing that and it hasn’t gotten any better.

You’ve got a micro-managing boss and a non-boss who wants to be a boss. Fine. Figure out how to deal with them. What makes them tick? Why is your VP micromanaging you? Does she mico-manage everyone, or just you? If it’s just you, chances are you are doing something she perceives as wrong.

You loved Job Number 2. You know what? You probably would have had problems there had the job lasted a longer time. Since everyone was in the same desperate boat (find a new job or move to TX) you probably bonded where you wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m not saying it wasn’t a fabulous job, I’m just saying you are probably over-idealizing it. It’s like the old joke where the minister asks all the perfect people in the audience to stand. One older gentleman stands up. The minister, prepared to give a speech about how we are all imperfect doesn’t know quite what to say. As he begins to sputter the man says, “I’m not standing up for me. I’m just representing my wife’s first husband.” First husband wasn’t perfect, but the wife only remembers the good sides.

A job is a job. It’s why they call it work. Yes, some people are able to find bliss at work. Don’t expect it. (Someone else is going to disagree with me on this one, but what can I say? I’m a little negative.) Work on solving the problems you have now and those skills will help you in future jobs.

When you do start job hunting again, take your time and make sure you are interviewing companies and bosses as well. Do your research. Hopefully this will lessen the chances of unexpected uglines.

And for heaven’s sake, please test out the commute and look for school zones before you accept an offer.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Just another HR lady... November 1, 2007 at 12:12 pm

Great advice Evil. I am a bit cynical about these kinds of situations myself, as I start to wonder about the employee when I see so many jobs in a employment history, particularly with so many lasting only a short time.

I agree, commute time is an easy problem to resolve, research it out before you accept the job. And then be happy about your decision either way.

Regarding the rest, a lot of the issues discussed are “people” related. Did you ever read any books on EQ? It’s a very interesting read, and may assist you in trying to understand other people’s motivations and how to work with different types of personalities in the workplace. I’m undecided on whether you can “learn” to improve your EQ, or if it’s an innate skill, but in any case it’s an interesting read.

There are going to be difficult or challenging people in every job (after all, we don’t work with robots!), and you have to figure out how to work with all of these types of personalities in a productive way. Who cares if you like the person, all that matters is that you can work with them effectively.

No expectations set for you? Set your own and excel at them. Boss is looking elsewhere for a job? Take on some of their duties (as they probably don’t care anymore) and shine in your own right. Difficult co-worker? Change your reaction to their sharp edges. You may notice a big change in the reaction you get back.

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~The I-Don't-Want-To-Be-Evil-Employee November 1, 2007 at 1:30 pm

Hi not-so-evil HR ladies!

I am the original questioner here and since there have been some changes and also some apparent gaps in my story, I figured I’d come to explain when I saw my letter had been addressed.

I appreciate all of the good advice and will definitely try to put it into action. But (there’s always a but), I should say that I am not a total moron when it comes to basic job choosing skills.

Commute time – As I state on Job 3, it was my fault for underestimating that. I learned the lesson and applied it to this job. Or so I thought. When I drove the rush hour commute to test, it was end of May/beginning of June. It was agreeable. Once September 1 (or whatever) rolled around, it became 15 minutes longer. NOT because the route has schools along it, but because there are school busses that drive the route. There’s no way I could have considered school bus routes unless I called local school districts and asked for maps of the bus route. (Maybe an idea for the future?)

Job 2 – I assure you that I DID research the company and even asked a friend who is a venture capitalist to help me research them. Everything we turned up showed no indication that this company would be taken over. In fact, it was actually suspected that my company would have been the acquiring party. The intent to merge was what was announced after I had come on board. This company was a good match for me b/c it was something I had personal interest in, etc. It wasn’t without it’s problems, but I did greatly enjoy it.

Job 4 – I should have stayed. Hindsight is 20/20, but I got really caught up in my boss’ issues with the company and made them mine. I did attempt to return to this job but they chose not to have me return as they chose someone else internally to fill my position. I understand that decision completely, but regret my decision to leave in the first place. Lesson learned.

Current job – Well, the VP is no longer my boss. (And yes, she does micromanage everyone) The “Manager” is now MY ‘Manager’ as she received a promotion. Good for her, bad for me. Had I know this 5 months ago, it definitely would have affected my decision to take this job. I’m not sure what else I can do when interviewing other than assume my potential boss isn’t lying to me. If I ask if I’ll be given autonomy on projects and they say ‘yes’…I can only assume they are being honest. If I ask what my duties will be, I can only assume that they are telling the truth. So I’m not sure how to learn from that aspect, but I’m definitely going to work on researching dealing with different work personalities. This is something that no one really teaches you in college/work force, but I do see how it can be a valuable asset. I don’t want to be a job hopper, but I do want to be happy and I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable.

Thanks again all!

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AJH November 1, 2007 at 9:40 pm

There are no perfect bosses. There are just those who you can get along with better than others.

You are going to have to stick this job out a bit longer unless it’s impossible for you to work with this woman (ie you need an anger management class after every conversation or she makes you suicidal). There are some places/industries where job hopping won’t hold you back, might even help you (ie DC, politics) but it doesn’t sound like you live in one of those areas.

On the bright side, it sounds like there is a lot of shuffling taking place in this company, so maybe there is an opportunity in another department. In the end you almost always have to decide whether it is more important to do work you love or for someone you love to working with. It is a very rare job that has both and even there you will have something to complain about.

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Wally Bock November 2, 2007 at 12:26 am

The Evil One (her name be praised) gave you great advice. So did Just Another HR Lady (could be an Evil Wannabe). You’ve got excuses for all of it.

So let me chime in. They’re trying to help. You’re seeing it as an attack.

Let me add something else. It’s your job to help your boss look good. It doesn’t matter what kind of boss. It doesn’t matter how long you have to drive to work. It’s your job.

I suggest that you take some time and think about your part in all of this. The only thing you can control is how you act.

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Michelle Malay Carter November 2, 2007 at 1:09 pm

Dear Career Troubles,

Yes, there are certainly employees who are stuck in victim mode, but usually, it’s justified!

As long as the powers that be continue to blame individual employees rather than address the dysfunction of the systems within they operate, we will continue to have 21% employee engagement.

If HR wants a seat at the table, they need to show up with systems-level thinking, not micro level, fix-individual-employee solutions.

If you’re looking for empathy and system-level solutions, you can check out my blog.

I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system.

Regards,

Michelle Malay Carter

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Just another HR lady... November 5, 2007 at 3:15 pm

Is that a compliment to be an Evil Wannabe? I think so! LOL!

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Eric Pennington November 5, 2007 at 7:27 pm

Michelle makes a good point about the system. If the system continues to produce poor leaders, then you’ll only get more poor leaders. Consequently, those who follow will be left damaged.

I advocate that we must find our freedom first. This must be done outside of the organization. Corporate America today functions more along the lines of a master vs. slave dynamic. The employees (non-executive) function as a means-to-an-end for the organization.

As someone who at one-time had oversight within Corporate America, I continually ran into being asked to choose the profit/expense control or the employee. I don’t believe it is a either/or proposition. The company and I decided to agree to disagree.

Thankfully, I woke up before it was too late and decided to change (a portal for setting career-minded people free) the world. This is my mission.

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Diziet Sma November 20, 2007 at 2:55 pm

“I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system.”

This sounds great, but what is the system if it’s not me and you? And if we’re OK, why does the system always need fixing?

Although I’m a mere HR/OD neophyte (4 years in) I’m increasingly of the view that individual-level solutions are the only way to fix sick organizations. Every business academic and every business book outlines some form of system-level approach to organizational performance and leadership development – but organizations consistently fail to apply these solutions and just continue to flounder, get sicker, make people unwell and bitter.

For my money the reason organizations fail to apply systematic solution is not because senior executives don’t understand them intellectually, but because implementing them requires ordinary people to (a) take personal responsibility for the quality of their lives and the company’s direction and (b) have emotionally intelligent interactions with another person (be that feedback, offering support, telling the truth, whatever). Not someone else or HR doing this – YOU the manager or employee, in an everyday situation. And mostly it’s much easier just to suck it up, feel powerless, hate your life and never improve.

Which is not to say there aren’t irretrievably toxic companies – but in my experience, the toxins emanate from the employees, not the walls of the building.

I’m actually with whoever suggested the original enquirer should brush up their EQ. Good advice for everyone. In fact, I think Stephen Covey’s First Habit of Highly Effective People is the one this guy needs to start with.

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