How much worse can I feel?
October 8, 2009 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm scared of the shame of being fired or laid-off, and I'd rather resign than be laid-off. Am I misreading all these signs or am I just burned out?

I've been having some chest pains at work several days
this week, the result of having built up a lot of fear of being laid off or fired. I haven't done anything wrong at work, but the managing director (a lady in her mid-sixties)
of my small company had been treating me very rudely. Her office is right across from mine and, while she is a constant gossip and complainer, a few weeks ago, I heard her complaining about the amount of time I bill doing various reports (at the request of my supervisors who also have me bill it to a business development account and I routinely underbill the hours I've spent). When I first started doing these reports, she was very happy about them. Now, she's asked me multiple times if my reports are actually useful to anybody in our company. I've made it clear that I have no attachment to doing the reports and am happy to do whatever they want (I only do them when there isn't other work to be done), but that hasn't stopped the managing director from being extremely rude to me whenever we pass each other in the hall. She's barged into my office without knocking when my door was shut and just been extremely short and rude to me.

I've worked at this place for 1 year and 5 months so far, and she was always nice to me before she started believing that the reports were a waste of time. It sounds insane, but I can't think of any other issue she would have with me, as I have gone out of my way to be nice, accommodating, and totally transparent.

I've been thinking about returning to school at the local college anyway to fulfill pre-requisites for a second bachelor's degree anyway, so part of me thinks I should just quit and start the January semester at the college.
I'm so emotionally paralyzed at work these days. I had to shut the door to my office and turn on the radio softly just to drown out her voice. I've waited until I am home to cry all week.

I have a plan should I not have work anymore. But, even though severance and unemployment would be helpful in the event I get laid off or fired, I'd rather resign than have them look for a reason to fire me (I don't think there would be any, but they could do it for any reason anyway) or lay me off. I don't think my ego could handle
it, and so many job applications require you to disclose if you've ever been fired or asked to resign.

I imagine all of this sounds very stupid and I'm sorry. I'm sure there are things I'm not articulating properly in trying to describe the situation. I'm either picking up some vibe or I'm crazy and paranoid, but the vibe is so overwhelming that I can't imagine it doesn't mean something. For what it's worth, my salary is pitifully low, probably the lowest at the company.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know whether or not they're going to fire you, but if you're worried about it enough to have chest pains AND people are being rude to you AND your pay is terrible, why NOT resign? Or, rather, hunt for a job elsewhere and quit once you've found one. I don't know what you do, so I don't know how possible that is.

Alternatively, you could take the risk and speak to the managing director to find out if there's any way you can contribute. Show initiative.
posted by katillathehun at 5:03 PM on October 8, 2009

I think you should schedule a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your job performance, whether they are satisfied with you, areas you can improve, etc. You may get valuable information or it may help confirm or deny the "vibe" you're getting. You should know what to do at that point.

Getting fired or laid off is not that bad. Usually there is some kind of little severance and you can feel relieved to walk away from unfinished work and not have to go back the next day. Try to look on the bright side like that. In the meantime, put some money away so you won't go broke if you do lose your job.
posted by tamaraster at 5:03 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tam's advice is good. It will put you in charge of the situation instead of waiting to react. "I just want to make sure I'm doing all I can to be valuable and effective here." is a good approach with any manager.

Don't jump because of a 'feeling'. I've seen too many people quit because they thought they were about to be canned, when in reality they were dead-last on the possible-cutbacks list. It's easy to misread signals.

Imagine, for example, that the managing director is annoyed because she realizes you're irreplaceable, and she resents how this makes her powerless. This doesn't forgive her rudeness, but it's an alternate explanation.

Seen it.
posted by rokusan at 5:08 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

I heard her complaining about the amount of time I bill doing various reports (at the request of my supervisors who also have me bill it to a business development account

This may have nothing to do with you. If she's your immediate supervisor, these reports may have made more work for her - and since she's really mad at the other supervisors and can't get to them, she's taking it out on you in the most passive aggressive way possible. I'm not saying that this doesn't suck, but just want you to realize that it may not be anything to do with you personally. Have you tried speaking to the supervisors who requested the reports...something along the lines of "I know you asked me to do these reports, but cranky lady manager has raised questions about why they are necessary." Maybe they already know the score.

Otherwise, I would go to school if that's what you really want - but being laid off is the better course of action as you can get unemployment if that comes to pass. Why don't you take a few days off to detox and decide then?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:10 PM on October 8, 2009

I can tell you that every time I've thought "Hm, I believe I may be at risk of being laid off," I was indeed laid off within a month. One learns the signs.

Do I understand the situation correctly, that your direct supervisors tell you to do X, and the managing director - who is your direct supervisors' superior - thinks that X is stupid? Are your direct supervisors aware that the managing director thinks these reports are dumb? That sounds like the kind of thing they would want to know, since their jobs may be on the line here without their realizing it.

If I were in your situation, I would side with the managing director. It sounds like she's the one with the power and the desire to let you go.

How few reports could you do in a month, without taking flak from your direct supervisors? One strategy would be to take the number you're doing now, and reduce it by half. Honestly, my guess is that the managing director is right - these reports are a waste of time. You've practically said so, yourself.

Next, shore up your position. Start looking around for some more mission-critical projects to work on. Don't just wait for work to fall into your lap - go find someone who's taken on the jobs of 3-4 other people, and ask to take something off their plate. They will thank you for it.
posted by ErikaB at 5:10 PM on October 8, 2009

I was under the threat of being laid off for nine years. For nine straight years, about every 4-6 months someone, or several people, in my department would be laid off. This was the situation through numerous promotions and lateral transfers. It was just the nature of the business.

I got so used to working under the sword of Damocles that I accepted it as the default state of the business. It was like being in the mafia. Any day could be my last. I accepted this and moved on. I always wondered what it would be like to be laid off, but by the time you found out someone was gone, their corporate e-mail account was disabled, so I could never follow up with someone after the fact.

One morning I came into the office and called a coworker in another department to let them know that I'd be missing a deadline. I was routed to their manager, who informed me that they had been laid off ten minutes before my call. Yes! Schadenfreude! I was ecstatic, as I could now devote enough time to get the project done properly. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance, as I was laid off an hour later.

It wasn't that bad for me, at least initially. I got called into a tiny room, where my manager sat crying and someone from corporate HR read me the terms of my severance package. Then they pulled out a supplementary package that I would get if I agreed not to sue the company. During this time, someone else from HR was packing up the few belongings in my desk. I was done in ten minutes, someone walked me to the door, and that was it. Done. Nine years down the drain, or chalked up to experience, or whatever, but I was finally axed.

Considering the severance package I got, I'm really happy I didn't resign before they laid me off. Also, I think it looks better to prospective employers saying that I got laid off rather than I quit. I was totally fine for about two days, and then I sunk into a pretty deep depression for about a month. I never realized how much of my self worth I derived from my job. You are not your job. It seems obvious, but it took me a long time to realize that.

Regrets? Only that I didn't get more corworkers' personal contact info and I wasn't always searching for the next, better job. Seriously, if I knew I could be laid off at any minute for nine solid years, why the hell wasn't I prepared for it? It really caught me off guard, and for that I feel pretty dumb.

Why am I saying all of this? Well, you seem really apprehensive about it. I recognize a lot of myself in your situation. For nine years, when people were being laid off all around me, one of the things I think made me so valuable to the organization was that I could put my head down and churn out work. Even in times of great uncertainty and ambiguity, I could produce. I think that made me a valuable asset, so try to be as productive as possible, even until the end (because you don't really know when the end will be). Try not to worry about it, but at the same time, be proactive: update your resume, network for jobs in your field (or the field you'd like to switch to), and try to stay ahead of the game. Consider going back to school (if that's something you've wanted to do).

Most of all, relax. I'm not saying not to think about it, but deal with it like any other problem. Assess the situation, consider your options, and act on the information you have.

Good luck! If it happens to you, try not to take it personally. Also, try to milk sympathetic people for as much beer as possible.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:44 PM on October 8, 2009 [17 favorites]

Can you go to the managing director and say, hey, got a minute? Tell you you're concerned that you're wasting spending a lot of time on some reports that you're not really sure are that useful. That, for the company's sake, maybe you could 'lean out the process' a little bit and try to make do without the reports? Spin it like, hey, you're just trying to help, but maybe these reports are cutting into the time you could spend on something more important?

In any case, the strategy is to put the action item on her plate to do something about, not yours. You can't really just stop doing what your supervisors want, and she'll realize that if something makes her think about it a bit. Something like having to argue about with said supervisors.

Then again, she might resent that - depends on her personality. You know her, I don't. That's what I would do with the information given, though.
posted by ctmf at 5:58 PM on October 8, 2009

I think you have it backwards. In this economy, there is no shame in being laid off, because everyone is getting laid off. People almost expect it. To quit a job, however, with no backup plan, that'll get you some weird looks.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

Times are bad. Managing Directors never blame themselves for business problems. So a scapegoat must be found. You're conveniently just outside her office, and you're not a profit center.
posted by orthogonality at 6:02 PM on October 8, 2009

You are not your job.

This. I know it's hard to accept, when society tells us otherwise in so many ways, but it's really true. There's no shame in getting laid off, or fired, or quitting, actually. It's just work. As long as you have conducted yourself in an ethical way and not stolen or hurt anyone, what could you have to be ashamed of?

also, re: chest pains. Hopefully you just mean indigestion, but chest pains are nothing to mess around with. If it feels serious at all, please please see a doctor before anything.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:03 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

(continued from previous) Even if she can't do anything about it, maybe you can get to a "these reports are so lame, amirite?" bonding experience.

In any case, don't quit unless you want to quit that job. Don't quit just because you think it might go away.
posted by ctmf at 6:04 PM on October 8, 2009

No, no, no, you WANT to be laid off. That way you for sure get unemployment money. That generally doesn't happen if you quit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:06 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you think you might get laid off, you might as well learn something about yourself or the company. Might as well ask someone, maybe a supervisor or two, maybe the lady who's being rude to you, what's up. You could gain very valuable information.
posted by amtho at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2009

You may be imagining that being laid off is some sort of You Suck Seminar, where you're told how awful you are and don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. That very rarely happens, because means of termination is a legal process and something that is very seriously considered by your state's workforce commission. It is possible that your boss is being a shit out of guilt or stress, but when the time comes, it'll be something like "we can't afford your job anymore, sorry." You box up your stuff, you go home and have a good cry, and you get up in the morning and polish your resume. If you already know it's coming, go ahead and get a jump on the resume part.

I was devastated after I was laid off the first time. I took it personally, and six weeks later September 11 happened, and the economy was in the shitter and by the time I'd been out of work for 9 months I had a much larger perspective on how, really, it's just mediocre luck. The second time I got laid off, we canceled the three house offers we had on the table, and I had a job 10 days later and a house a month after that. Frankly, you can't make it the length of a career, unless maybe you're a nurse, without getting laid off anymore.

It would be a really bad move to quit before you're fired, for unemployment purposes, unless you get another job before then. You're flinching from an imagined rejection that, in the end, isn't going to have any teeth. Sure, it'll suck in the moment, but there's no shame in it.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2009

You are not your job.

Reposting (again) for emphasis.

Actually, my boyfriend is having a similar freakout, and I have been searching a simple way to say this for some time, thanks.
posted by soupy at 6:52 PM on October 8, 2009

Getting laid off is better than quitting, which is better than being fired for cause. Medical issues aside, laid off is the best option if job loss is imminent. (Because then you get unemployment, which is near impossible if you quit or are fired for cause.)

And it isn't a black mark on your record. Frankly, the whole "quit before you are fired" thing is useless. Anyone who matters knows the real story, and the company is off the hook scot-free if they can convince you to quit.

Advice- never underbill or overbill anything. Better to appear to take too much time doing a task than have "slack time" and the appearance of being a time waster.

When people are rude like this, you have to defend yourself. No emotion, just facts.

Boss: "I don't know why these reports take so long... Does anyone use them?"
You: "I don't know, you should ask Jenkins in accounting; he was the one who told me to do them."
Boss: "But why does it take so long?"
You: "That's the only way I know how to do it."
Boss: "But why are we doing it when you have better things to be doing??"
You: "These are questions I can't answer. I perform my assigned tasks to the best of my ability. I have no control over what I'm assigned."
Boss: "But how can it take so long?"
You: [lay out the steps in great detail until you are interrupted]
Boss: "I know all that!"
You: "Then how do I do all those steps more quickly?"

Don't be obstinate or snarky or anything, just raise facts. Your goal is to keep the conversation focused on the things you have control over. People like this will drag conversations to all manner of irrelevant tangents. You have to simply reiterate your position, or ask for clarification, or finally, give up and tell them they are going in circles and this conversation isn't doing anything to solve anything.
posted by gjc at 6:57 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Managing director in her mid-sixties? Maybe she is going to be pushed out and is just taking out her stress on you because your office is nearby. Also, if she's an MP and she's in her sixties, chances are she doesn't need the money from work (since presumably she's saved a ton over the years of being an MP or other upper-management before now). Why is she working, then? In a job where likely most of her time is consumed by the job? Because, maybe, she has made her job into herself (the opposite of the "you are not your job" comments above!). So, the idea of being pushed out could be especially traumatizing for her. That doesn't mean that you won't be her scapegoat before she goes, but it doesn't mean you will be either. Anyway, this is the theory that came to my mind first as I read your post. Also, I tend to agree with other posters that being laid off is the best way to leave a job right now, other than leaving it for a better job that is also very secure.
posted by lorrer at 7:14 PM on October 8, 2009

I had a bitch of a boss who started hounding me on this stuff. Then she got verbally abusive via email and had the nerve to copy another team member on it to which I calmly replied by forwarding the email she had sent me previously asking me to do the specific thing that she was reaming me out for.

I then went to HR and complained that the situation was such that I was having anxiety attacks, and extreme stress.

I was laid off a month later due to "performance issues" that they would not go into detail on. They offered generous severance and I just wanted to put the whole thing behind me so I took it and left but the fact of the matter is, NEVER quit because it is uncomfortable.

If it starts getting that bad, just start doing the minimum to get by. It will help relieve your stress a bit, and I'm sure any employment lawyer would be able to successfully argue that they cannot fire you for cause for "just doing your job" even if you aren't going the extra mile.

As others have pointed out, getting laid off in this economy is a non-issue. Just say the company was making some changes, and while you can't be certain, you have a hunch its due to the economy. Done, end of story.

Oh, and just to cover your ass, be sure to get EVERYTHING that your boss complains about in writing. Send an email saying you want to discuss her concerns over the time spent on these reports that X person is having you do. Then have the meeting to discuss it and make sure it comes out crystal clear that you are doing what you are being told to do and to the best of your ability. And then send her a follow-up email indicating that you are "glad you both came to an understanding of why you are billing time to this, etc." Print it and take a copy home with you for safe keeping.
posted by Elminster24 at 7:34 PM on October 8, 2009

Throughout your life, you'll be forced to deal with people who suck. The best skill in the world to develop is the particular kind of thick skin that lets you see their suckage as not being directed at you (which it rarely is). It's a kind of mental trick that I learned when I asked a coworker how he handled our very difficult boss: He said "I treat every encounter like it's an interesting conversation."

There was a thread on the blue a while ago about a woman who's husband asked for a divorce, and wouldn't give it to him. In that case, she recognized that he was having his own little mid-life crisis, and decided not to co-operate with it. She didn't deny him a divorce, she just didn't play along with the drama he was trying to create to justify to himself his leaving the family. After a while, he worked through it without leaving his family, and settled back into a good marriage.

The MP who's giving you a hard time is almost certainly not irate at you; she's working out her own little drama for her own little reasons. You can't stop that or help that, but you don't have to co-operate with it by responding with drama. One way is to simply pretend that there's nothing wrong. Respond to her as if she's putting interesting observations to you in a conversational tone of voice. It can be difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it, you realize that you don't have to let anyone's emotions dictate yours--you can choose to respond as you wish to respond, and not get sucked into someone else's issues.

Talk to the one person you have to please directly, your supervisor. Check that you're doing what she wants you to do as she wants you to do it, and if there's any improvements you can make. Do that, and you'll know that you're covered, that you're not doing anything wrong, and that the MP's grief is all about her and not you. The MP doesn't deserve your tears or your stress.
posted by fatbird at 9:17 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

You can't live like this, seriously. I had a boss a few years ago who started out sweet and cheery and progressed to riding my ass constantly. After a couple of weeks of that I went into work and asked to sit down with her and the owner, and told her if she didn't like the way I was doing my job, she could find somebody else to abuse. I ended up working there for another two years with no problems. You need to nip this in the bud immediately. Chest pains? Holy shit. I have worked for some horrible people and looking back, no job is worth that feeling in the pit of your stomach that never goes away.

What everyone else said above: It's just a friggin job. And it's affecting your life.

Am I misreading all these signs or am I just burned out?

No, you're seeing everything clearly. Your boss sounds like the one who is burned out.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:28 PM on October 8, 2009

Just to clarify, getting laid off is definitely what you want here. Go back to school - the world is yours!
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:31 PM on October 8, 2009

If you want to go back to school, then go ahead and get your student loan lined up and look for a decent part-time job. I'm all for leaving on your own terms but only if you have Plan B in motion first.

FWIW, I've been in a similar position at a past job. Knowing that it was coming was a huge advantage. I researched severance agreements beforehand so I had a list of what I wanted to ask for prepared. I also gathered info about COBRA, refilled some prescriptions, got a new pair of eyeglasses and went to the dentist. BTW, it's my understanding that you can still get COBRA if you quit so I would research that either way. It's usually not a good deal but you may be surprised.
posted by bda1972 at 5:57 PM on October 11, 2009

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