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Should I quit my job?
June 6, 2014 9:11 PM   Subscribe

I started a new job couple of months ago. I feel it may not be working out. I don't want to be impulsive. Is the decision to quit a good one?

In the job I started, the department is very disorganized. I have about 3 people telling me different things and I don't even know who is really my boss since they are all acting like one. Nobody has taken even a few minutes to introduce me to the job. I got some documents thrown on my desk to read during the first day and that was that.

I have also been criticized that I am not assertive enough and don't talk enough during meetings. I am still so new and the role is technical that is not even really dependent on "talking a lot". I kind of think it's a bit soon to be criticized for such a silly reason. I have also completed all the technical tasks given within the allocated time (usually even earlier).

My co-worker said that one of the bosses said in front of her "oh no, looks like I will have to micro-manage her". I don't get what inspired that comment.

I am still relatively junior and there is nobody more senior that has the technical knowledge and that I can consult with if I run into a problem. I feel uneasy about this.

Even if I can hold this job (i.e. not get fired), I can't handle being criticized for what I feel are irrelevant reasons on regular basis. Also the knowledge that they are not happy with me is bringing me down.

I am considering making it to 6 months mark - just so I have given it a real shot and looking for another job.

I feel pretty sad because I was really looking forward to starting this job. Turns out it's nothing like I expected.

Am I being rush?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total)
I have about 3 people telling me different things and I don't even know who is really my boss...

I have also been criticized that I am not assertive enough....

Kill two birds with one stone -- Demand to know who your boss is. You can't have two bosses. You can have one boss and other people who can task you, but you have to have one person who can deconflict overlapping or contradictory taskings. Talk to the person who hired you or whomever signed your offer letter or just the next person who tells you to do something. Ask, "Hey, who's my direct supervisor?" Then go find that person and ask him or her for a job description. If they can't provide one, wrote it yourself and have that person sign off on it.
posted by Etrigan at 9:17 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]

This is like 90% of jobs I have ever had. And the other ten percent were mostly worse.

Start looking for something else now, if you're truly unhappy in a way that you know would improve if you went to another company. Be honest about whether that is actually true as you undergo the interview process at these other workplaces.
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 PM on June 6

Who criticized you? Ask them if they're your boss, because you're a little confused about what you're working on at the moment, which is "everything." If they say no, ask them if they know who is, or who you can ask. They probably won't be shocked to find you observing the company as disorganized. To who did you hand your health insurance or whatever papers you signed when you started?
posted by rhizome at 9:29 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]

You've been given valuable feedback that you aren't taking. Be assertive.
You stand to gain no matter what if you start doing so.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:35 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]

I have also been criticized that I am not assertive enough and don't talk enough during meetings. I am still so new and the role is technical that is not even really dependent on "talking a lot". I kind of think it's a bit soon to be criticized for such a silly reason.

On the contrary, being politely assertive is valuable regardless of your role. Assertiveness is obviously valued in this organization, and by resisting this advice you're only shooting yourself in the foot. Speak up!

I can't handle being criticized for what I feel are irrelevant reasons on regular basis. Also the knowledge that they are not happy with me is bringing me down.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but such is life when one is not one's own boss. Your boss(es) are well within their rights to criticize you for any professional reason, even if you find the reason "irrelevant." This is just part of professional life that you have to accept.

Nobody has taken even a few minutes to introduce me to the job. I got some documents thrown on my desk to read during the first day and that was that.

This is unfortunate. It's not fair that they dropped the ball on getting you acquainted with your new job. Regardless, you now need to reach out to someone (be it the people who task you with new assignments, or the hiring manager, or someone else you trust) and ask for your duties to be clarified.

Also, this advice that you've already received is patently false: You can't have two bosses. You can have one boss and other people who can task you, but you have to have one person who can deconflict overlapping or contradictory taskings.

I personally have four direct bosses - it's in my job description - and deconflicting overlapping or contradictory taskings is my own responsibility (i.e., if that arises I work with my bosses to sort out of the problem constructively). So it's very possible that all three of the people who give you work are actually your bosses. If that turns out to be true, make sure you ask how to handle potential conflicts when you clarify your official duties. I can't speak to all organizations, but it works very well for us.

Am I being rush?

If you're totally unhappy in this job, yes, you should start looking elsewhere. But be aware that some of the issues you've identified here - disorganization and the expectation of assertiveness, for example - exist in many, many organizations. You may not be able to escape them by going elsewhere. I think, especially since you say you were excited to start this job, that you owe it to yourself to try and work with the organization to get to a better place before leaving.

Good luck!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:21 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]

"oh no, looks like I will have to micro-manage her"

Since "micro-managing" is generally looked down on as a management technique, I would hesitate to interpret this comment literally. It could easily be an ironic comment about your unusual degree of independence. Since you received this as hearsay and missed out on tone of voice, facial expression and such, I recommend forgetting about it.

As has already been noted, the kinds of issues you're facing here are common and you'd do well to learn to navigate such an environment. What others perceive as a lack of assertiveness may actually be confusion. How can you assert anything if you lack a clear sense of how things should work? Alternatively, if you've got more technical skills than anyone else then maybe what they need from you is to speak up about technical issues/problems that you can see coming down the pike before anyone else can, and your tendency to just try and do what you're asked to do is what's perceived as a weakness? I don't know, but these are possibilities worth considering.

If your organization is relatively flat rather than hierarchical, then it's probably important not to take any one person's word as gospel. Do you know the story about a group of blind men trying to describe an elephant while each touching a different part of the animal, so that one man thinks an elephant is hard, curved and sharp, another thinks an elephant is broad, leathery and floppy, and yet another thinks an elephant is thin and stringy? Well, when you've got several people ("bosses" or otherwise) making different demands and giving different advice, it won't always make sense to take what they're saying literally or to try to comply with every request. It helps to think about why particular people might be saying particular things, and make the best choices you can in that sort of light. If you really don't have a single direct supervisor then the real boss is the work -- not the niggling little tasks you might be asked to do, but the big-picture work that needs to get done. Pay serious attention to that boss, even though it doesn't have a voice of its own.
posted by jon1270 at 3:23 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]

Is the job, other than the issues you've noted, otherwise OK? You haven't said, for instance that you received 3 different instructions from the 3 bosses, and this led to a dressing down from one of them. So, are you gaining skills and experience relevant to your field? Do you generally get along with your co-workers? Are you liking the work? If the answers to these questions are yes, then I'd give it more time. As others have said, these same issues and expectations will be present in most jobs, so if you're basically liking the work, you're doing better than average.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but from the phrasing of your question, it seems you put technical proficiency above all other aspects of work performance. Whilst it is probably the most important thing, it's not the only thing. Your managers may be concluding (rightly or wrongly) from your lesser participation in the team meetings that you don't really care about the job or the organisation. There are also some work cultures where it's not enough to be doing the work; you also have to be seen to be doing the work. This means talking about it a little - like at the team meetings if that's appropriate, or even just in the hallway "hey boss 2, I'll have that thing on your desk later today!"

Lastly, being the most senior person in your technical area means you can get a lot of experience, quickly. Don't look at it as you running into a problem, look at it as you having the opportunity to learn and devise a solution. You might be doing stuff that people at your level in other companies can only dream of!
posted by pianissimo at 3:39 AM on June 7

From what you've written, it seems like there are two things going on here that are making your adjustment to the job difficult: The actual/perceived structure and culture of the job, and your attitude towards working within it.

Both, on their own, can be stumbling blocks, let alone together. As someone who has sometimes struggled with this in the past, myself, I suggest taking a step back and untangling some stuff before proceeding.

First off, the culture. Is it truly "disorganized," or is it just differently organized relative to your previous workplaces? Individuals within an organization can certainly be disorganized, and a given department might be less coherent than another. But any workplace that has departments, bosses (regardless how many), and an employee manual, has a structure. And assuming they're able to cut you a paycheck, it's a structure that essentially functions. You just need to figure out what it is.

I have mostly worked in rigidly, clearly structured environments (they don't call the professional kitchen hierarchy a "brigade system" for nothin'), and moving to a flatter structure was confusing at first; it took some time -- longer than a couple of months, really -- to know where I fit. In the former, "speaking up" wasn't required (or particularly desired); results = food in the window, on time. In the latter, I answered to several people to varying degrees, supervised others, and had to communicate what I was doing with everyone; results = information sharing/status reports, with backing data. You are being explicitly told by your coworkers that you need to be more assertive, and that's the only way to figure out your position within the structure. Make an appointment with the HR department, and ask for a refresher on who is in charge of what/how the departments are supposed to interact. Frame this as a positive thing, as in, "I want to do my best work, but I'm having trouble figuring out which person's requests take precedence."

Now, the attitude. It may be an expression of your level of frustration but honestly, the wording of your question suggests someone who feels that working with others is some sort of imposition. You are complaining that you aren't being given guidance, but dismissing some very direct guidance ("please participate in meetings, and keep us informed about your technical work and its meaning to the company") as "silly," and "irrelevant." If the fact that no one else understands the technical aspect of your work truly makes you uneasy, then you should be grateful -- not dismissive -- when asked to explain just that.

Disorganized or no, the culture at your workplace seems to value engagement. You may be used to a culture where you quietly do your thing. If you can't adjust to the idea of showing your work, you will continue to be seen as someone who needs micromanagement; people will assume that they need to tell you what to do, because they have no idea what you are doing.

TL/DR? I don't think that you should quit a job you were excited to land, after only a few months, without really giving it a shot. And by "giving it a shot," I mean 1) learn the rules, and 2) play by them. If you are at ~ three months, a sixth month reevaluation sounds reasonable; hit "reset" now (get some formal clarification of your role and position, participate, and take/apply feedback gracefully) and see how the next three months play out.
posted by credible hulk at 6:19 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]

This may be you being unreasonably delicate, in which case moving on won't help you much. Some of what you complain about sounds rather thin skinned.

Not all of it though. Bosses making snarky remarks to some employees about other employees is a bad sign. (And especially when it's about you!) Getting criticized on a regular basis sucks. Feeling like your bosses aren't happy with you is no fun.

It does sound like you're not much respected, which is a difficult hole to dig out of once you're in it, no matter how you got there.

If you can get another similar job easily, I say bail. Not four months from now. Start hunting today and leave ASAP. Maybe your problems are mostly you--but getting a different job is a good way to find out. Don't hang around somewhere you're unhappy and disrespected if you have other options. If you have the same kind of problems at the next place, you can dig in and try harder there.

If you can't get another job easily, then you'd better try to adapt as other posters are suggesting.
posted by mattu at 7:18 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]

This all sounds pretty normal. It seems like maybe you are not aware of the soft skills that are important in the workplace.

The overarching thing I see here is that you aren't navigating uncertainty well. But you aren't going to have one boss assigning you discrete projects and expecting nothing more at most jobs, or maybe any job. You need to try to take more initiative and ownership. What are the goals of the business? What else can you do? Try to think of things, and to ask.

Look, if things have gone sour then maybe you should get a new job. But these issues will arise again, so at your new job, you need to understand that you're not in school and that all of these "irrelevant" things are actually critical (because they are viewed as critical).
posted by J. Wilson at 8:10 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]

If you are being criticized on a regular basis, of course that would make anyone unhappy. Your other issues about lack of training and senior mentors sound like issues that may not bother you as much if you felt like you were doing an amazing job and getting positive feedback.

I think the key questions are:

1. Is it clear what you have to change, in order to make your bosses happy? Do you know precisely what you need to do, such as "speak up in meetings the same way that coworkers Joanna and Mike do"? Or is it vague like "be more assertive, but not in that way you just tried, and not in that other way either, and I can't describe it but it's not any of the 7 things you've tried"? If it's not clear, you could ask your bosses for clarification, like "I think you're saying I should do X, is that correct?" Or ask them for a book or video that can help you learn what they mean.

2. Do you want to change in that way? Often your bosses want you to grow a skill that will serve you well in any organization, so it's great that you get to learn it in a place that's giving you feedback. Generally, "assertiveness" and "speaking up in meetings" are important to learn. However, occasionally an organization will ask you to change in ways that go against your values, such as becoming more "macho" in a way you don't like or learning political backstabbing or suppressing your real thoughts in order to suck up to your bosses. Your situation sounds more healthy, like skills that would serve you elsewhere.
posted by cheesecake at 10:14 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
To answer a few things: the person that hired me and is my official boss went on a 3 month leave just before I started working. It is not clear who is the replacement.

As for just "be assertive" it's sort of like saying "be confident" or "be outgoing": I would if I could. I am shy and introverted and that's why I picked a technical field where being talkative or assertive won't matter. I am not sure why it matters here but if it does, then the job is clearly wrong fit for me. My interview was 100% technical and my impression was that's what truly matters for this role. My interview panel consisted of none of the people I currently work with.
posted by mathowie at 10:09 AM on June 8

Hey OP, thanks for the update.

That update changes things a lot. Are you rushing into a decision about quitting your job? Yes! You haven't even worked under your actual boss yet. Looks like your boss will be back within the month(?) so that might resolve one of your issues. Also bear in mind that your temporary bosses might be resentful (but not against you personally) because they have been left to manage a new hire on top of their usual workload. They might not be clear on what they're supposed to do with you either.

I get you on the shy/introverted thing. I have also dreamt of getting a job where I sit quietly in my corner churning out the work without being disturbed by meetings and other social interactions. There are a spectrum of jobs and company cultures and it's possible that your current job values talkativeness too much for you. If that's truly the case - but don't judge that until you've worked under your actual boss for a bit - then sure, look for another job.

But honestly, all jobs will have *some* need for participation and assertiveness. Even if your bosses don't require it, for your own sanity you will at some point need to advocate for yourself eg to stop being overloaded with work, or to resolve conflicting instructions. What I'm saying is, by all means look for a job that's a better fit, but please realise that you might have a happier time in the workforce if you also try to adapt a little.

I'm sure if you ask the green for tips on how to be a little more assertive (and some examples of your alleged unassertiveness would be helpful) you'll get some good pointers.
posted by pianissimo at 8:01 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

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