Help me be less paranoid about getting fired.
February 18, 2011 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Help me be less paranoid about getting fired.

Hi. I'm a 30-something corporate professional. I have been working in an industry for the past 10 years as a middle management professional and have done quite well for myself. I have always been a Type-A, motivated, enjoy what I do, etc. etc. and I think for the past 10 years it definitely has paid off with me moving up the corporate ladder despite changing companies and continuing to grow as a professional and into a career that I love.

Anyway, last year I was working for a company where the internal politics were quite toxic. People withheld information from one another, there was a lot of back stabbing, tons of political drama, and basically, if someone in upper management didn't like you, you were as good as gone, despite work outputs.

Long story short, I was essentially "pushed out" of this company because a person who was my senior didn't like that I tend to think outside of the box and didn't like that although I completed my work, I didn't necessarily do it the same way as everyone else. I tend to challenge ideas at work (gently and politely of course) because I think that there are tons of different ways to do different things, and trying new ideas within reason can pay off all around. Obviously risks versus benefits are major considerations, but if my colleagues are in agreement, then why not? Anyway, things were made to be very difficult on me, to the point where I was bullied, passively-aggressively roped into working long, unnecessary hours, and was eventually put on an entirely unwarranted performance plan. I say this was unwarranted, because typically when someone is put on a performance plan, the plans include measurable objectives - then once that person is able to perform/obtain those measurable objectives then the plan is resolved. Well, none of my objectives were measurable and were completely subjective. Being Type-A this totally threw me for a loop and I was devastated. I felt like everything was out of my control and even if I complied with this "plan", the fate of my job still was in the hands of my senior who didn't like me. As a result, I worked even HARDER to show them that this was not me and that I was a valued employee - to the point where I even created and submitted voluntary weekly summaries of all the measurable work I did that week, my hours worked (despite being a salaried employee) and every output I produced. The result was still to be totally shunned and pushed out of the company. I was an "at-will" employee, so technically they could fire me whenever, for whatever.

Long story short, I found a new job and resigned before they could fire me. I think it was the best choice in that situation. Since then, I've even talked with a few now ex-colleagues who underwent the same treatment, so I know it wasn't just me.

However, I'm now totally paranoid at my new job! I've been there almost a year and received a glowing review in January, a rather large bonus and a small raise several weeks ago, which I should be very thankful for, especially in this economy. My new job is crazy - it's a start-up environment rather than a well-established one like my previous trainwreck-job, so things aren't necessarily black and white, but I also like that because it challenges me. I like my boss. I like my co-workers. I'm happy there!

Right now is a stressful time, and I know that whenever a corporate group is in a stressful time, tempers tend to flare and people get stressed out and say things in tones that do not necessarily match how they feel. That's ok. I've lived through this in past jobs and know how things go. However, I'm feeling quite anxious and paranoid that I'm not doing a good job and am worried that my past could repeat itself. Essentially, my job-confidence is totally shattered. I don't think I've done anything to warrant a performance plan again. I mean, I received the glowing review in January like I said, and for the most part, I'm on top of what I need to be doing as part of my regular job. I produce measurable outputs and if I'm behind on something I try to be honest about it. I've asked my boss to tell me if there is something I need to be doing and/or if I'm deficient in any areas. We've identified a few areas of learning, but that's about it. We are short staffed currently, so my entire team is in a similar situation. My boss and I talk every day (my boss is based out of another state) so communication is totally open. We are in the process of hiring four people to alleviate the workload and part of me is terrified that when these new people come on board I could be "pushed out" - in reality, I don't think this would happen because my company doesn't seem like that nor does my team, so I think it's residual fear from my previous situation. I don't want to feel like this though! I want to be confident in my job!

Please help me reduce my paranoia on something that seems unfounded.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have had the same problem. I got laid off (after a year or so of really unpleasant workplace politics), and at my next employer I was always paranoid that I would suddenly be let go.

I just tried to focus on what my employer actually said to me (positive stuff), identified forward-looking statements (which indicate future plans that included me), and made sure I was doing what I had promised to do - meeting my targets.

So when that little voice starts making yourself paranoid, just run through the checklist above.

As well, if you tend to think outside the box and do things differently, try to observe yourself when that's happening. If it is really what you need to do, you need to ask yourself if you are stepping on people's toes.

Probably working in a startup, thinking creatively to get the job done is actually an asset.

Sometimes you have to, but you need to make sure that you're not being needlessly abrasive.

This is a patterned behaviour which will not change overnight. But if you can develop some effective communication skills. Maybe take a workshop or something.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:51 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who has experienced toxic work environments: you sound like you have a lot going for you at this job right now. According to your post:

-your boss gave you glowing reviews, bonus and raise
-you speak daily with your boss
-you have lines of communication with your boss that implies a high level of trust

These are all very positive signs. I say, roll with it. Be positive (at least outwardly), look for ways to "manage up" and take some of the stress load off your boss (you say you're understaffed), and I don't think you'll have any problems.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 10:56 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless you are self-employed, most of what goes on in the workplace is beyond your control. Focus on the stuff your can control, your job performance, and don't sweat the rest. Worrying about it is not going to change the outcome anyway. It's just wasted effort.
posted by COD at 10:58 AM on February 18, 2011

My boss and I talk every day (my boss is based out of another state) so communication is totally open.

Here's what I did when I was in a similar-but-not-identical situation (Cause was different but "anxious paranoia when I was getting glowing reviews and bonuses" sounds the same.) I talked to my boss and told her because of past work experiences with bad environments, a good environment is hard for me to get used to. I didn't even really say much more than that. But, for some reason, letting someone know that made me feel more like we were part of the same team. I don't know your relationship with your boss and what you'd feel comfortable with (the "type a" part of me -- which has severely faded away as I've gotten older -- would have hated doing this -- as it felt like an admittance of weakness, but it's not - it's a strength to be able to point out where you feel you might need some help, even if that help you need is "how to work in a non-toxic environment)

Good luck!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:01 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Find a way to tell your boss how much you appreciate the positive environment she creates, and subtly hint that it's a change you're getting used to. Depending on the level of casualness, I might say or write something like-

"I was thinking about the performance review you gave me, and I wanted to take a moment to really thank you for it. You've created such a positive environment, and I left that review feeling valued and inspired. In the past I've worked in environments where the overall vibe was negative and unstable, and this is such a wonderful opposite. The energy here is great even during crunch-time, and I notice it every day. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your support, and how happy I am to be a part of this team. If there's anything I can do to improve my work or add more to the team, please let me know- I love working here and I really want to do everything I can to help things go smoothly and add to the magic.
Thanks, Captain!"

... or however you'd phrase it. The things I was going for:

1. Thank boss for being great- make her feel good, sounds like she deserves it
2. Let boss know that her praise and appreciation has a major positive impact on you- which makes her more likely to use praise and appreciation to motivate you in the future- you're basically teaching her how to communicate with her.
3. Show loyalty and genuine team-player vibes, willingness to contribute....
4. ....Which makes you basically un-fireable since you've pledged to adapt to any needs they identify.
5. Be honest that you've been affected by bad workplaces in the past (without being too negative).
6. Spread good vibes.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:53 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Intellectually, you know your situation at the new job is fine. Better than fine; you've found a place in which you can and will thrive (would that we were all so lucky!). We don't have to convince you of that.

Your problem is that the rest of your primate brain hasn't caught up with your new environment, and your thoughts are consumed with the defence mechanisms burned into you at the old, toxic workplace.

It's really jarring when this happens. And both a blessing and a curse that we humans are smart enough to recognize it in ourselves, but powerless to affect it.

Your Type-A ego may rebel against the idea of therapy ("It is for the weak!"), but a good therapist really may be able to help you get past this more quickly.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:25 PM on February 18, 2011

From what you've written it sounds like you have documentation of good performance and good feedback. Make sure you keep every bit of it.

I wish I could tell you you have nothing to worry about and, FWIW, I think you are working with honourable people.

What I can't assure you is that everything won't be completely different tomorrow. A new and toxic person could be hired, or your cow-orkers could turn out to be not what they seem. Doing good work won't necessarily protect you because "good" work is work your boss says is good, and if someone decides to discredit you truth doesn't have to have anything to do with it.

If you can, try to build up a work record that can stand as evidence of your worth independently of your boss's opinion. Also try to build a good network of contacts and have an exit plan in case things start to go

Sorry that's not what you want to hear, and no I don't recommend that you stay paranoid, but I do think you should hope for the best and expect the worst.
posted by tel3path at 1:05 PM on February 18, 2011

Well, it seems as if we're not dealing here with an actual possibility of being let go, just your own fears of that happening. So, being and ex-Type A corporate middle manager, here's what I would do. First, you need to identify actions you can take that are under your control, and this is where you need to do your work. The weekly documentation is something every manager should be doing all the time, so start this up again, but now just keep it for your eyes only. And updated resume on file is also something everyone should have, and keep networking. From your current boss, and team, ask for feedback regularly, and insist on hearing any negatives, maybe in a weekly staff meeting that already exists. Be careful here and do not overdo it, you might already be across the line on this and you certainly don't want to come off as needy and paranoid at work. Rise above the office politics at your new job, cultivate an air of professionalism and confidence. Don't be afraid to toot your own horn, but in a positive manner: "I am very good at X, so I volunteer to handle that part of this project."

Make a list of anything else you can think of that is under your control, and focus on those. When the "OMG, I could get fired" thoughts try to take over, just remind yourself that you're doing all you can and don't be overwhelmed.

I would also consider finding a way to let go of the regrets you have from your old job. I know from experience how easy it is to obsess about that. There are old threads that address that issue with some helpful advice. You can memail me for further info if you want.
posted by raisingsand at 3:01 PM on February 18, 2011

Your question conveyed some anger and resentment about how you were treated at your last job, and I think that underlies some of the fear you're experiencing now. The more you can make your peace with what happened before, the less afraid you'll be in your current position. It sounds like there was a mismatch between your strengths and the previous company's culture. It happens. It's sucky when it happens, but it happens. If you can become more philosophical and less angry about what occurred, it'll help.

The other suggestion I have is more generic. It has helped me get through a number of anxious situations, whether there was any basis for my anxiety or not. What I do is make contingency plans. I play out the worst case scenario in my head and figure out what I should do if that awful thing happens. I inevitably discover that I'll be just fine even if the unthinkable occurs, which takes away its power to instill fear.
posted by DrGail at 5:53 PM on February 18, 2011

Try a little cognitive behavioral therapy on yourself.

Step 1: Take a piece of paper and on the left side write down all of the paranoid thoughts that you can remember think during the day (or are thinking in the moment). Once you have a pretty complete list, start down the right side and next to each statement, write a counterargument that is (a) true and (b) positive or calming. Your question shows that you know a lot of the things that you can use on the right hand side. Do this daily until you find yourself noticing the paranoid thoughts when they happen and then thinking of what you will write down next to it. My guess would be doing daily for a week would be enough but use your own judgement.

Step 2: Develop a very simple response to your paranoid thinking. For example, "I'm doing fine here. If there is any problem, I trust my boss to let me know." or "The worst that can happen is I get fired and have to find a new job. Been there, done there, worked out great" At any rate, find something that works for you, that you can really believe is true.

Step 3: Whenever you notice a paranoid thought, you can counter it with either the specific responses you developed in Step 1 or the generic response in Step 2.

Bonus step: Taking a deep breath before you use the counterargument can help calm the panic in your head so you are more open to your own logic.
posted by metahawk at 6:15 PM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't have any advice for you, I'm just glad that someone else has gone through this. I thought I was going crazy! I had the exact same situation going on.
posted by Polgara at 8:42 PM on February 18, 2011

Honestly, I started therapy at the same time as my new job this past summer for strikingly similar reasons. My therapist and I didn't start talking about non-work stuff in any detail for nearly four months of weekly or every-other-week visits. (Well, no performance plan, just, y'know, random public humiliation by the CEO alternated with gratuitous public praise, and death by a thousand cuts in slights and promotion hinkiness noticeable to even my daft coworkers.)

I've been working my ass off at not carrying over the paranoia and reflexive defensiveness, and it still creeps in sneakily sometimes.
posted by desuetude at 9:34 PM on February 18, 2011

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