How do I rid myself of a bitter "fuck you" attitude I'm now feeling towards ANY future employer?
December 22, 2009 4:41 PM   Subscribe

I am bitter towards companies in general, and that's not a useful attitude to have as (hopefully) a round of January interviews approach. Help me.

I was laid off more than a year ago. When I was laid off, I was told -- at some length -- about how the decision was not in any way, shape or form a reflection of how they felt about the job I had done for them. It was strictly based on seniority -- they were cutting many people that day, and of them, they were cutting the two most junior employees in the department in which I worked. I had been there for nearly three years, but I was still the second most junior employee in that department, and thus was shown the door. (Parenthetically, I have an educated guess that the local human resources employees who laid me off that day had next to no slack on who was selected; I am pretty sure the company's central office micromanaged precisely which cuts were made from where with no input from local HR. Some of the people let go elsewhere were bulwarks of that company who, if local HR had any input, would almost definitely have been kept.)

At the job prior to this last one from which I was laid off, I was fired. It was good that I got fired, because it shocked me into realizing a faulty tenet that I had been carrying around until then: that somehow, some inherent sense of justice in the universe meant that I was "owed" a place to go where I could give them my labors and they would give me money in return. I still don't think I did a poor job there, but there were a number of significantly distracting and very large-scale personal issues going on in my life that really prevented me from giving my all, and in retrospect, my firing was understandable, if not kind.

That changed at my next employer. I grew to actually really like that company. I devoted myself to my job, and brought all my skills and talents to it. I went above and beyond; I was constantly given sterling reviews and better-than-the-company's-average annual salary bumps. I was one of those guys that everyone feels fairly warmly towards. I was always willing to offer anyone a helping hand if I could possibly do it. I was never even asked to do it, but I gave them a lot of free overtime, cumulatively, figuring that being asked to stay late 20 minutes or so wasn't bad, especially as the company was equally flexible with the extremely occasional moments I needed a little give.

The tenet I began to form at this employer -- again, subconsciously -- was one I think a lot of people share. If you give an employer your best, and make yourself as invaluable and as good a "buy" for their salary money as possible, then you're a valuable asset and the company will accordingly continue employing you.

Now, it feels as if that can't be relied upon either, and the replacement proposition one might form from my experience is: "An employer will be happy to fire you the moment its bottom line is threatened. It has absolutely no interest in you other than as a cog in its processes; if you're a bad enough worker, you'll break the machine and then they'll fire you. But they don't care if you're a particularly good cog, either. They'll swap you out the moment they want to."

And, to some extent, I know that's true. But it's also a deeply cynical worldview that inclines one to go around each and every day with an attitude of "Fuck you, [employer]!" And not only does that incline you towards being a poor employee, that also is just a poisonous emotion to have in your psyche about the place where you'll spend eight-plus hours of each day. I really don't want that emotional baggage in my head each and every day. Some other stuff has had me a lot happier in general, so I really don't want to be renting brainspace to this emotion for an indefinite lease.

I've not been confronted with the question yet because companies have simply not been hiring for my position for most of the past year, so interviews have been near non-existent. That is already showing signs of significantly changing next month.

How do I do this? How can I go to an employer and interview with them and not feel so deeply hostile towards a company that, as of yet, will have done nothing to deserve it?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You're right about both things: Companies will fire you to improve the look of a spreadsheet, and hard work is rewarded with loyalty by your employer. The distinction to keep in mind is the two levels operating here, the corporate and the personal.

I got laid off two years ago when my department was shut down. It made spreadsheet sense somewhere, and it happened. But up until that time I had a great relationship with my boss and coworkers, and that actually shielded me to an extent--I was immediately offered another job by another manager in a different department. And up until we were laid off, I considered the job pretty good just because I felt like my hard work and good attitude was respected and rewarded.

The thing to remember is that both these levels exist, the organizational and the personal, in every workplace. The organization has no loyalty to you; to the company, you are nothing more than a cog. But remember that the machine is run by the cogs higher up in the chain, and cogs can feel loyalty, and recognize hard work, and reward effort. Within the boundaries of the machine, a big difference can be made by your relationship with the other cogs.
posted by fatbird at 4:52 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hear you. You're right! This is the reality for most everyone, the part about being just a cog in a machine despite giving it your best effort. I wish to hell that management would make it a top priority to value their staff and treat them well and try to keep good employees. But they don't. I think it's fair to be angry and cynical about this situation.

Poll Reveals Trauma of Joblessness in U.S.
Joblessness has wreaked financial and emotional havoc on the lives of many of those out of work, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll of unemployed adults, causing major life changes, mental health issues and trouble maintaining even basic necessities.

Well, you do need a job, there are bills to pay. Also, when you get that job, which you will, I think it's fair to maintain a healthy degree of wariness, instead of throwing yourself in to the point of being devoted to your job, with the expectation that the company is going to value you accordingly. Going through the day thinking "fuck you!!!" is not going to make a pleasant experience, but it seems like you're in a good headspace actually, where you could perhaps go through the day thinking "other stuff makes me happy, this is just a job that I need to pay the bills, and to build up my skillset for myself - and if I feel good about going the extra mile, I will, but... much of the value of that is being able to say in my review and subsequent interviews that I went the extra mile."
posted by citron at 4:58 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

You sound like an idealist. The universe doesn't exist to please you and companies are not run to please you.

Don't forget those two principles.

At the end of the day, a job is just a means of buying food, shelter, clothes, and whatever luxuries you want. Imbue it with more than that, and you risk disaffection.

Don't fall into that trap.
posted by dfriedman at 5:00 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fatbird is right. 100%

But, you kinda sound like you need to get out of the private sector for a while if you can. A company is in business to make money, and most places you'll get to be on the unfortunate end of that once or twice. There are exceptions (I've worked for one of them) but no sane business owner will take a loss just to avoid firing you. That's all well and good when the economy is good and jobs are plentiful, but right now? No thanks.

I've worked for three private companies, one city government, one regional urban planning agency and one University. Hands down, the University is the best employer. I just don't see as many people getting screwed over as I did at the city or out in the money-making world. It's huge and can be impersonal, but they'll do whatever it takes to avoid layoffs and their ethics are in the right place. You sacrifice some (or a lot) of earning potential, but the lifestyle is nice and the benefits are great.

It's worth a try for a while. I can see myself back out in the private sector some day, but it'd have to be a pretty sweet deal (maybe twice what I make now) in order to offset the 5+ weeks of vacation, commitment to rehiring laid off employees, retirement plan and overall sense that you're part of an institution that has done a lot of good for the world.
posted by paanta at 5:01 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

things i keep in mind about work/jobs/companies/life that might help your mindset:

it is said that people will change careers on average of three times in their lives. this isn't jobs - this is careers.

a job, or a company, isn't who you are, it's just what you do.

you have a contract with whatever company you work for - you give them X hours a day (or X amount of output, depending) and they give you Y amount of money. as soon as that is no longer a favorable equation to you, you get to walk away. the flip side to this is that employers also get to walk away.

there are no guarantees in life, much less business. learning to accept the manta "everything changes" has really helped me with some bitterness issues.
posted by nadawi at 5:01 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

This may not help you, but in my industry (journalism) it's pretty common to absolutely loathe one's employers. But the reason you work for them is they are enablers. I work hard for them, they pay me and also give me access to a printing press and a room full of journalists. Working for them allows me to do something I otherwise could not.

I think this works for a lot of fields. If I wanted to be part of making Macs, I'd work for Apple. If I wanted to work with cars, I'd work for a motor manufacturer. If I liked tabulating figures, I'd be in accounts.

There are jobs where no love or pride is possible. But those are the jobs with high turnover, and all sides know that this is a temp gig on all sides. If it's one of those, then paying lipservice to loyalty is expected all round.

If it isn't one of those, then just find the thing you love that they're enabling you to do, and gush honestly about that.

You want a tenet, try: "this business exists to make money, and this comes partly at my expense. I am compensated however, by shouldering much less risk than I would have to take going it alone, and by getting paid to do X, which is something I like and am good at. This deal is acceptable, for now"
posted by bonaldi at 5:10 PM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Every time you cringe at the thought of a company laying someone off for the sake of the bottom line, consider the number of days you would be willing to work for a company for free.
posted by Rykey at 5:12 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

what fatbird said - there's the organisation and then there's the people.

We had two redundancies in my department of 52 people in March and they were people who had worked very hard over the years and were well liked in the department.

Nevertheless they had slipped up in different ways and their performance in the last 18 months had been below expectation - they had become slightly disengaged and one had found a niche they focused on, which detracted them from their main job. In any other year their performance review would have reflected that and they would have fixed it by the next year. This year the organisation decided they had to go.

Doesn't mean the people they worked with were not disgusted at the decision or that they were not sorely missed.

For one of them a previous boss, who had long since moved into a different part of the organisation, had been searching for an alternative role for this person for a while to give them a new challenge and thus get them to re-engage but this did not transpire in time. So there was loyalty by individuals and appreciation, just not at the level where the decisions were made.

You have to remember that there is a clear distinction between the people you work with and the organisation you work for. To a degree the people represent the organisation but it's only ever going to be the people who will appreciate you going the extra mile or who will value you and be loyal to you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:21 PM on December 22, 2009

Corporations are machines operated by people. People vary, corporations vary.

Do not add worry or stress to your life over things outside of your circle of influence.

If it is not possible to work independently, then . . . "embrace the suck", as military people say. No matter how suboptimal things are, they can always become more adverse.
posted by tad at 5:44 PM on December 22, 2009

How do I do this? How can I go to an employer and interview with them and not feel so deeply hostile towards a company that, as of yet, will have done nothing to deserve it?

Well, consider it from the employer's point of view: you're a resource that they have to pay to acquire, pay to train, pay to manage, pay to keep happy and productive, and yet you can walk away without so much as a by-your-leave and take all your training and knowledge with you.

Employers can screw you, and you can screw employers. That's why it's best for employers to constantly reevaluate their "resources" to determine if some should be let go, even as they're doing their best to keep their "resources" happy and productive. That's also why it's best for you to constantly reevaluate your employment opportunities to determine if you should leave, even as you're doing your best to help the company make a profit. This is what employment is, these days, at least in the United States in an at-will state.

Now, you'll encounter a lot of manager-types who say that's crazy, and that you shouldn't be hunting for jobs while you work, or keeping your resume updated or whatnot, and that you should be putting all your energy into helping the company be profitable. Well, these people are as bad at managing as employees are when they walk around saying "fuck you, employer" and slacking off. Employers don't keep employees who say that, and similarly you should not work for an employer who insists you give, give, give without getting what you want and need in return.

So: go get a job, a new one, one that you like, knowing that it will eventually end -- and give it your all, to improve the odds that they'll keep you because you're helping them make a profit, and devote a small but regular amount of time to keeping yourself in the loop on job opportunities and ready to go if you see something you like.

None of this is cynicism; it's realism.
posted by davejay at 6:18 PM on December 22, 2009

I think you're a bit hung up on theoretical feelings of hatred because you only have a theoretical employer at the moment.
posted by smackfu at 6:37 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not all companies treat people like they're disposable. It depends on the size of the company and the corporate culture. It sounds like you either need a smaller company that is managed hands-on by an ethical, caring owner, or you want a company known for a corporate culture of caring about its employees and trying really really really hard to avoid layoffs and unnecessary terminations.

Or, figure out how to start your own company and create the corporate culture you want. (You may also find that you have more sympathy for your previous employers once you have to struggle to meet your own payroll.)
posted by Jacqueline at 6:38 PM on December 22, 2009

Small companies managed and owned by real humans tend to treat their employees well - that should be the environment you seek. Also, make sure you're looking in an industry that's got potential for growth; I suspect there are going to be a lot of really bitter auto maker employees who won't concede that their entire industry is in for a radical change, and instead will want to blame their (former) company, which may also be evil, but is still subject to the whims of the market.

And yes, self-employment is the only true form of job security. Everybody should try it at least once.
posted by anildash at 6:51 PM on December 22, 2009

I'm like you, which is why I've always worked at small places that really valued their employees. These are places where you're united by a sense of shared mission, where holiday parties feel like extended family get-togethers, and where yes, my overtime did certainly add up to a significant number of unpaid days, which is fine because I'm not there primarily for the paycheck (I laughed at your mention of 20 minutes). In return, all of us seem to get a level of freedom, self-determination, respect (unrelated to organizational hierarchy), and concern for us as people that is much higher than what I found at a corporate job. The group took aggressive early action to try to avoid layoffs, because we feel really lucky to have each of our staff. If we did reach a point of layoffs, they would be anything but semi-random and impersonal (we'd probably all take furlough days, for starters).

So, keep your level of dedication, and now find somewhere that will reciprocate.

On preview, what Jacqueline and anildash said.
posted by salvia at 6:58 PM on December 22, 2009

I second the working for a university. You can hear about how fucked they are where I live every single day in the media, but so far not that many people have been laid off, and they try not to, or go on seniority if they do, etc. People work there for decades and loyalty is really valued here still (for now, this is probably the last bastion).

But beyond that...the company's first loyalty, even if they like you, is to make money. YOUR first loyalty is to make money so you can eat, even if you like them or don't like them. So really, you have the same priorities. I wouldn't go into a job these days expecting loyalty, but just go in there and do what you have to do for YOU. They'll do the same. And if you cultivate some relationships with people here and there that you like, bonus. If they help you stay employed some day, extra bonus.

But what it always boils down to is, a cog's gotta eat. And employers are a necessary evil for that. You just have to live with it, or win the lottery, or marry for money, and good luck with the last two.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:24 PM on December 22, 2009

Maybe it would help to think about how most people many of us know make similar situations in our everyday lives. Most people I know, including myself, might love going to a particular pizza place, for example. Say it's run by a great guy who always makes me smile when I go in. That definitely helps me want to come back, but at the end of the day it's really important to me that the pizza tastes amazing. As long as it keeps tasting amazing, I love smiling at the great guy who is so nice to me while he takes my pizza order. He might even be cool enough so that even if one day the pizza sucks, I'll still order another day. But if he makes me bad pizza a few times in a row, I'm moving on to other pizza- I'm spending my money to get pizza, not for him to make me smile, this is just an added benefit (unless there's another business going on between us that isn't just pizza, which is not the situation you should be having at work in this metaphor). Even if this guy keeps doing a great job, if someone else starts a business selling the same pizza a few bucks cheaper, i'll probably start going to him, because now I can add a salad to my meal and make it even better.

We all make these kinds of decisions, it just seems exceptionally cruel when it involves our livelihood and ability to support ourselves. Such is life. Hope this was helpful. I'm hungry now.

you should find a place that treats you well, and keeping the above in mind give a company a chance- after all, you have something valuable to offer the employers, that will make them want to keep you. and bitterness isn't that something valuable, its your can-do attitude. good luck
posted by saraindc at 8:25 PM on December 22, 2009

You need to separate your feelings from your job, which I know can be easier said than done. I've been going through some of the same feelings over the last few months, so I can certainly relate. Personally, I've started to simply look on work the same way everyone else in this thread has, as a business transaction - I provide my time in exchange for money, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't matter how nice your boss is or how much you enjoy the work, you have to keep that in mind.

On a side note, I would also suggest looking into leaving the private sector. Bureaucratic B.S. is present everywhere, but at least universities and the government provide halfway-decent benefits and job security.
posted by photo guy at 9:32 PM on December 22, 2009

Companies are organizations made up of people. So, you get good and bad just like you do with people. From my point of view it is healthy to have a certain amount of loyalty in both ways as it leads to stability and makes everyone more productive, more profitable and generally happier. Beyond that point however, it can become counter productive.

I'd hope you'd want to do a good job because of your own satisfaction, the possibilities of building your career and the skills you can gain. Hopefully it would lead to your maintaining a position, but no employer can guarantee that. Even small employers with good intentions can fall into that category. I've had to lay people off because of economics, and I can assure you it isn't something I want to repeat, but the only guarantee I could have of that is refusing to ever be a manager again. For the individuals laid off there really is no good reason.

The best you can look for is an employer who makes a commitment back to you to your own career growth and opportunities. I manage professionals and my goal is to make their employment attractive enough that they want to stay. If I can't do that, then perhaps they really better off with another company, and I'd never begrudge someone keeping a resume up to date.

I'll also echo the thoughts of considering institutional employment (Universities or Government). The wages are typically lower and the jobs less stimulating, but in exchange you generally get more predictable benefits and employment. The recent recession has even hit those ranks however. A large corporate structure is always going to feel more impersonal than a small company, but my impression is that impersonality is perhaps less, not more, arbitrary than what you'll find at a smaller employer.

One other avenue I suggest is look into being an entrepreneur yourself. Not necessarily that you should try to start your own business, but instead mapping out the possibilities might help you get different perspective on how employers have to consider the hiring decision. It may help you put a human face on the person sitting across the table from you.
posted by meinvt at 9:42 PM on December 22, 2009

You may be a broken employee (and not in the incompetent nitwit sense, but in the sense that you're no longer willing to put up with even a nanosecond of bullsh!t from people who wouldn't bat an eyelash firing you if they thought they could put an extra dollar back into their discretionary budget). In addition to the risky, but often rewarding, small-firm route, many employees from the Island of Broken Employees start their own gigs. You'll fail, of course, because that's what startups are statistically best at, but you may find it preferable to taking it up the wazoo for health insurance and just enough scratch to cover the rent and most of the interest on the consumer goods that were supposed to distract you from your shitty job.
posted by spacewrench at 11:25 PM on December 22, 2009

Treat employers as they treat you. Give good work, obey the rules. But, if, say, you accept a new job at Company A, and then Company C offers you a better deal a week after you started at Company A, jump with no regrets. There is no loyalty in corporations, and they should expect none in return. Be assertive in pursuing your own best interest.

That said, your attitude of bitterness will make you feel shitty, and will have zero effect on corporations. It may seep into your job search with bad results. This is a once-in-a-lifetime recession, bordering on depression, and the pain is always born unevenly - those who screwed up this economy, banks, politicians and corporations, are not necessarily paying the price. Learn more about it, and vote accordingly. Buy some stock so you have voting rights in a company or 2. Even 1 individual can effect change, and having even a small amount of control helps the frustration.
posted by theora55 at 8:14 AM on December 23, 2009

A serious, however short, suggestion: Start a company.
posted by Freen at 3:37 PM on December 23, 2009

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