My wife's job blows. How can I help?
October 21, 2011 9:50 AM   Subscribe

How do I help my wife cope with a job she hates, and get her to feel positive about finding something else?

My wife has been at her company for 14 years. The last five of those years has been in a job she doesn't particularly care for; she took that job because her manager told her it was the first step towards management. She has tried to take those steps towards management a few times now, and has been denied each time, sometimes for legitimate reasons (more qualified candidates interviewing for the same job) and sometimes for BS reasons (office politics that have nothing to do with her in particular).

She just found out today that she did not get the most recent job she interviewed for, which was a job in the same company but in a totally different area - the job she didn't get today was for a trainer position, and unfortunately she interviewed at about the same time that several IT trainers in her company (she doesn't work in the IT department) were outsourced and looking for a job, so she lost out on this one to a current IT trainer.

She is incredibly down right now, and I want to help her up a bit. I know I can't solve her problems, and I don't really want to - what I really want is to a) help her feel good about herself work-wise and b) help her see that, with persistence and some work, she will in fact get a different and better job someday.

She's convinced she'll be stuck in this crappy job forever, and unfortunately right now all I have are platitudes - "we'll find you something", "we'll work on your resume", useless things like that.

Unfortunately, we are not in a financial position where she can just quit; she has to stay in her job until she finds another job, and since she's been at her company so long she doesn't feel like she has value outside her company, even though she does. We have already gone the "here's what your good at in a not-specific-to-your-current-job" sense, so if I try that now she won't want to hear it, which I understand. her take on it now is that she's 0-for-6 in job interviews in the last three years, so she must be not very good. Which is wrong, but how to demonstrate that?

I want to be able to do something, say something, or show her something that will help her see that this latest setback is not fatal, that she (and we) can get through this, and not to give up. Any ideas?
posted by pdb to Work & Money (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would focus on her happiness in other areas. Start doing some project together, something that will give you a finished, tangible result (redecorating or something). This will a) distract her and b) give her confidence in completing something. I think focusing on her job and her job hunt is counterproductive, unless she asks you for help with her resume etc. Listen to her venting, but don't bring it up on your own.
posted by desjardins at 9:55 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make concrete plans with her to build up a savings account safety net. Once you have a year's worth of expenses in savings, her leverage increases tremendously as she'll be more willing to walk out on her current job, explore starting something herself, learning a new skill, whatever.

At my last job I realized that career wasn't for me, but I felt tremendously empowered because I was able to quit and join a small start-up doing what I loved because of my savings.

So, if together you set up a plan to grow your little safety net, say with just 5-10% of each of your paychecks, then as she continues to interview and explore other opportunities, even if they don't work out, she'll know that month by month she's gaining leverage and the potential for freedom.
posted by losvedir at 9:58 AM on October 21, 2011

How is "we'll work on your resume" useless? It sounds like updating her resume and applying for/interviewing for a few jobs at other companies would be a great idea.
posted by headnsouth at 9:59 AM on October 21, 2011

Response by poster: (not threadsitting but I was here for a second)

headnsouth - it's useless because we've done that a couple times in the last two years and it results in a cycle of interview-->don't get job-->get down on self. So maybe "useless" is the wrong word, but today or this weekend is definitely not the right time to use that approach.
posted by pdb at 10:02 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm sure you'll get lots of practical advice on how to help her with the job

Tonight or this weekend I would actually try and show her that there is more than just her job in her life. Maybe you take her out somewhere special. Maybe something simple like dinner at a restaurant she really likes but you don't go to often and a movie she'd like to see. You can talk about the job over dinner or not that is up to her, but I'd recommend a nice time with lot's of romantic hand holding, and telling her how nice she looks and how much you love her. What you are trying to do is remind her she is part of a team, that she is not in this alone. Knowing someone has your back is the best part of marriage, remind her of that.

There is always time next week to make plans, or to work on resumes, though the ideas suggested so far seem like great ones to me. . Right now your wife is feeling a bit battered and bruised and needs some TLC so she can gather up her forces, then she can sit down and you guys can work on your next move together.
posted by wwax at 10:15 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You can't make her feel better about her job at this point. Because anything you tell her wouldn't mean much in the face of the mounting evidence that the deck is stacked against her (as it may appear in her mind). All you can do is encourage her to try to move up again when she gathers up the courage to try again.

I think it's best to just keep her distracted right now. Go away for a weekend in the country. Plan and execute a project together. Go on a hike. Hell, even taking her out to a really nice dinner might be welcome.
posted by inturnaround at 10:17 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds as if all 6 of those interviews were for positions in the same company. It may be time to interview elsewhere. If there aren't alternative employers nearby, consider moving.

I want to be able to do something, say something, or show her something that will help her see that this latest setback is not fatal, that she (and we) can get through this, and not to give up.

She might need validation rather than problem solving and reassurance. When she tells you about a frustrating circumstance, let her know that you see how frustrating it must be for her, that her frustration makes sense and the circumstance would frustrate anyone.

I want the best for my wife too, but the way out of the problem requires that she understand what *she* wants. My wanting her to see the situation in a certain way, even a positive way, can get in the way of her being able to feel her own way to a solution. Because I find it so difficult to see her suffering, my efforts to reassure her can perversely come off as attempts to comfort myself. I don't want her to feel the thing she is quite naturally feeling, so if I'm not careful I get in the way of the emotional process she has to go through to be able to pick herself up, dust herself off and try again. Validating those feelings, even if those feelings are that the situation sucks, speeds that emotional process and subsequent decision making along.
posted by jon1270 at 10:24 AM on October 21, 2011

since she's been at her company so long she doesn't feel like she has value outside her company, even though she does

it's useless because we've done that a couple times in the last two years and it results in a cycle of interview-->don't get job-->get down on self. So maybe "useless" is the wrong word, but today or this weekend is definitely not the right time to use that approach

This is the crux of the problem. If she's anything like other people I know who fall into this line of thinking, she's probably a highly valuable employee. But job interviewing is a numbers game, pure and simple. Right now I think I'm very, very close to getting a new job offer while still employed. That's taken 53 job applications since June of this year, resulting in interviews at 7 companies.

Successfully landing an interview in a world where anyone can send out 100 resumes a day is 50% luck. Maybe more. Successfully landing a job offer is a slog, not a pure meritocracy or measure of your worth. This process can be made much, much easier by networking in your field (which can get you access to unadvertised jobs), but that isn't something I've had time to do this summer and fall. If you're not networking, you should be prepared for numbers closer to mine. And if your wife is the kind of person who thinks that not getting a job offer from an interview is a reflection on her worth, versus the dynamics of the entire situation for the hiring company... well, that's probably going to be a challenge. I don't have an answer for you for today, or this weekend, but she's going to need to either address that way of thinking or get very lucky in order to get out of her current situation.

But hey, networking. That's not a job interview, so I guess it's less "people judging you and picking someone else," but it can still lead to job interviews, plus some outside perspective on a bad situation as far as her current company goes. Seems worthwhile, and might provide a much needed dose of self worth if she isn't someone who totally freezes up in a networking situation. (Oh hi, that was me for a while!) And maybe informational interviews, in the same vein. Or a recruiter. Can she work with a good recruiter who will independently assess her skills and experience, and try to place her into specific positions?

The common thread to all of my suggestions, I'm afraid, is that she's going to need to reframe her own thinking, which may take some validation from someone who isn't you about her worth in the job market. You can help with process, make suggestions, and even support her in other ways, but there's only so much you can do about the core issues above.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:25 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Your wife's stock is either valued correctly, such that she needs to improve deficiencies, or she is undervalued in which case the answer will not involve trying to sell herself to people who don't know how to value her. Right now, she probably lacks the perspective to tell the difference. In either case, your wife needs less of a pep talk, and more time devoted toward planning her next move so that, if she wants to, she can negotiate with her current employer from a position of strength, or flat out walk away. She needs a better plan than just watching the HR mailing list at EmployerCo and tossing her hat in the ring.

Right now, the task is bound to seem overwhelming. Figure out what's necessary, then break everything into small discrete steps.

I'd probably start a project like this by commiting to paper (or spreadsheet) a list of her skills, ranked in order of her strength in them. Compare that to the list of requirements for kinds jobs she wants (bonus points if all of the jobs are things she'd do for free if she could), and figure out how to acquire more experience with skills she needs if she's not currently competitive for those jobs. This might mean outside of work training, or volunteering for projects at work to improve skills and experience. Your wife would also do well to network with other professionals in the field she desires and start making those industry connections that will help find jobs before they're posted. Once she's plugged in, she should stay involved and connected. Be prepared to support her in this by either participating with her, or making it possible by holding down the fort while she's busy with it.

Whenever she tells you how she's feeling, listen, but don't compare her feelings to your own. Instead, tell her that you can see and hear how frustrating this is for her, and that anyone in her position would feel the same. Maybe your immediate role is complicated by other things, but I'd make her a nice dinner or take her to a favorite place on a date. Find the time to remind her that your marriage is a partnership and that you're ready to be more involved in helping to plan (and execute) her next career move and that you're going to share the sacrifice to help prepare if she wants. Suggest that you schedule a time to start plotting the course and then enjoy the rest of the evening and once that's done, reward her for taking that small step with an enjoyable rest of the evening.
posted by Hylas at 10:29 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Totally different angle: You aren't in a position for her to quit, but are you in a position for her to reduce her hours, say to 80%? sometimes having a three day weekend can make up for a lot of work-crappiness.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:35 AM on October 21, 2011

Things suck right now for her, so there is no use trying to convince her of otherwise. Add that to a bad economy, you've got a problem. Acceptance of this fact doesn't have to mean wallowing.

Try helping her focus on what she can do about it. Keep applying relentlessly, inside and out of her company. Saving up a fund to let her take some time off. Time off could include quitting, leave without pay, or if things get really bad - stress leave (a doctor's note does not need to specify reason for leave.)

Even if it's a long shot, I find reminding myself that I'm doing the best with the card I have makes me feel better.
posted by Gor-ella at 10:38 AM on October 21, 2011

Oh boy do I know how you feel . Warning: This will be long, but I am going to go ahead and say it: she should quit.

Crazy right? In this economy? How can you support this? That just not going to happen etc etc..

Well time to hear the facts about people in crap jobs in which they hate in this economy. I know this because I used to be in a job I hated and now my wife is currently in one. I know generally know how she feels (because I was in her situation before) and how you feel (I too have a wife who hates her job).

The only thing that can fix this situation is a drastic change. This has to be external. No amount of meditation or knitting or kickboxing will fix this. Either she quits or gets fired. I say this in accepting the fact that a new job might be 2 months away or 2 years away for her.

To give you some background: I too hated my first job, this was right after college during the 2008-2009 collapse that I started looking. I sent out at least 175+ resumes and had probably over 10 interviews over a year and a half period. I started thinking just like your wife is: “I will be stuck here forever” and started truly hating my job. Becoming cynical and somewhat depressed. But just like your wife, woke up every morning and went to the job because I could not logically bring myself to quit. Quitting while not having another job lined up is just crazy! Ironically, I knew that the only way I was going to stop going to this job, having been burned out on looking for work for a year and a half, was to either quit or somehow get fired. As fate would have it, I got laid off because the company started doing crappy during the recession. This was a blessing in disguise because A, I didn’t have to go to the job I hated anymore, and B, I got to collect unemployment, and C, my life direction was changed. I eventually found a new job which is significantly better in money, opportunity, environment etc. I am way happier than I was at the previous job.

“The last five of those years has been in a job she doesn't particularly care for”.
Just think about that. She put 5 years into something that makes her miserable. Who’s to say it won’t be another 5 years? And I know from experience a miserable partner tends to rub off on the other partner. No one wants a depressed person as company.

She should quit. She can work on looking for a new job once those 40 hours a week opens up and her mood is 100 times better.

I think you should do everything in your power to give her that option. When you say “we are not in a financial position where she can just quit;”, are you saying there’s absolutely nothing that can be sacrificed or you couldn’t pick up an extra job? Could she do a simple part time somewhere? Think about what mental or real obstacles are in the way of her quitting and do everything you can to build bridges over them.

“Going to a job you hate everyday is committing spiritual suicide” - Les Brown motivational speaker

It’s a leap of faith for sure. But a leap in an unknowing direction will at least have a chance of something better. Break the cycle!
posted by amazingstill at 11:03 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Much like amazingstill I worked at a job I despised for six years. My boss had some weird personality disorders and was a crook (had me do things like alter truck scale tickets in Photoshop just to screw a supplier out of a couple hundred dollars). But the job provided good Blue Cross insurance (which I needed) and paid fairly well. But after years of regularly complaining to my husband, one day in March 2002 he turned to me in the car and stated: "We are going to get you out of there by the end of this year. That is my belated New Year's Resolution." We had long talked about writing for a living - we'd worked for a few online services over the years hosting trivia games and had some 30,000 trivia questions in our database - so every evening after work we'd go to Borders and browse through the magazine rack, looking for publications that published puzzles or quizzes. We'd submit some material and made a few sales; not much money, but it got us some clips for our file. Mr. Adams put together a book proposal (meanwhile I'm whining on the phone from my office every day, "I HATE this place" and he'd reply "We're working on getting you out of there, just try to focus on that.") We didn't get a book deal at that time, but that proposal did get us a regular writing gig for one of those free newspapers you pick up in restaurants and hair salons that features facts on a particular topic plus puzzles and quizzes and such. It paid much more than my current job (although we had to pay for our own health insurance; kinda sucky, but in the end a more-than-fair trade-off for not having to work for Mr. Crazy anymore). I was able to quit that detested job in October 2002, seven months after Mr. Adams and I had made the actual pact to get me the heck out of there.

So, although I don't recommend quitting a job with no other prospects in the hopper, I do recommend aggressively looking elsewhere after hours. And that means not just sending out resumes; it means going out and meeting people, networking, ingratiating yourself. What line of work is your wife in? Look for gatherings/conferences/etc of similar professionals and start schmoozing. Back in the days when I worked in the steel industry, there were all sorts of open houses and luncheons and such held by trucking companies, steel service centers, equipment sellers, etc, all related to the business held throughout the year. Even if you were a "mere" clerical employee, these gatherings were an excellent opportunity to network, because every one of those companies needed clerical workers and they preferred to hire those who had previous experience in the steel business and who were familiar with all the industry-specific lingo and procedures.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:43 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a mental exercise I used while I was last unemployed that helped tremendously.

The economy is inextricably linked to our moods. We think the economy is going to do badly, we start spending in a way that proves ourselves right. We go to a job interview thinking we aren't that awesome, and suddenly it's hard to look awesome.

Everytime I give into that feeling of negativity, the world is a little bit worse for it. So it doesn't matter if it's true. The evidence in the news is most assuredly accurate, and the law of averages implies I'm nothing special. So it's likely I will die alone broke and starving. But acknowledging that fact isn't just believing in this reality, it's creating a future reality. So the best option I have is to refuse to give in to negativity, and hope my optimism will infect those around me. At least enough that the interviewee doesn't stop worrying about making budget by hiring me, but instead gets excited about my contribution to the team.

When you reframe that cynicism and negativity as a trap that actively contibutes to your current situation, it becomes easier to dismiss those thoughts as they naturally crop up. Slowly it becomes much easier to roll with the punches. When you hear bad news, look past all those natural distracting thoughts because the validity of them is unimportant. Then focus instead on what you can and can't do, you pile of awesome, you.
posted by politikitty at 12:09 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I also vote for encouraging your wife to quit. She's been in an unhealthy situation for 5 years while making huge efforts to get out of that situation. I think she needs to quit for both her mental and physical health. Could you find a way for her to quit? Think of this as the "in sickness" part of the marriage. You would be doing whatever it took to get her to quit so she could focus on being healthy again.

Maybe she could find a part time job while looking for something full time...maybe something low stress like dog walking (if she likes dogs).

I think you should stop thinking that it's impossible for her to quit and start thinking about what you can do to make her quitting happen... cutting back wherever you can on things like meals out and cable... maybe you could even look for a higher paying job for yourself. You could give it a try by living on just your salary for a couple months to see if you can make it work.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:26 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I love parakeetdog's idea of an in-between or part-time job that makes her some money while not trapping her in an office that she not only hates but is also sucking away any of her last vestiges of self-esteem. Is that more financially feasible for you? Can she temp somewhere?

Right now I'm temping at a silly job that a coked-up, blind-folded monkey could do, and I actually had to take my master's degree off of my resume in order to get the job, but I'd rather have a temporary position for which I'm wildly overqualified than stay in a poisonous environment or go through failed interview after failed interview with nothing to bolster my sense of self. The pay at this job isn't bad and my supervisors constantly praise me just for being competent, which makes me somewhat more able to go out and face more rejections from corporations that don't personally know me.
posted by pineappleheart at 1:30 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

As harsh as this is, you don't get a job by feeling a certain way about it, you get a job by applying over and over again and being rejected over and over again until you get an offer. By "over and over" I mean (according to my own personal statistics) about 150 applications per month, with about 1 interview for every 4 applications, with about 1 offer for every 10 to 15 interviews, with about 45 hours spent preparing for each interview.

If she has not looked for a job in the last 14 years, she most likely does not understand this. But from my perspective, your wife has simply never tried to look for a job at all. 6 interviews in 3 years - an average of 2 applications a year - and only being willing to apply to one company - equates to a negligible amount of jobhunting. If she is psychologically unable to cope with even this small amount of rejection (okay I realize that it seems bigger considering that it comes from people who have directly worked with her, but still) then is the jobhunting process going to tip her into a breakdown?

The alternative is to become very tough and accept that the jobhunting process means learning to tolerate some very negative feelings and situations, and inventory her skills according to their actual market value and not fall back on declaring herself "worthless" so that she doesn't have to face this task.

I'll be honest with you: to me, this would be like somebody refusing to learn first aid because it would make them think about the possibility of having an accident. It would be favouring emotion over reality. I would encourage her to ask herself what she would do if she were to lose her current job and you, for whatever reason, were also out of work. Would she label herself "worthless" then and explain to the unemployment office that she couldn't look for work because she had no skills and simply couldn't bear rejection? By taking the approach she is taking, she is denying herself some essential adult life skills which she might need to draw upon when she least expects it. Wouldn't it be better to develop those skills now, before she thinks she needs them?
posted by tel3path at 2:05 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all.

dpx.mfx -

She actually asked about that a few months ago but her company (a very large inflexible employer) won't go for it. They have alternative work schedules, but they're of the 9/90 variety and wouldn't even consider allowing a reduced work week.

pineappleheart -

That's actually a good idea, temping somewhere. I hadn't thought of that, but that might be a good thing to mention...thanks.

tel3path -

The question was "I want to be able to do something, say something, or show her something that will help her see that this latest setback is not fatal, that she (and we) can get through this, and not to give up. Any ideas?"

You make good points, however, your approach may be a little bit too "tough love" for this weekend, when my main goal is to help her see that she does in fact have options as far as work goes and that she's not stuck. This weekend needs to be all about the touchy-feely squidgy stuff; there will be plenty of time for hard truth in the next few weeks.
posted by pdb at 2:58 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

She probably needs to talk about it and complain a lot. Let her talk, even if she repeats herself. You don't have to find answers for her, listening really well is a tremendous gift.

At some point, ask her "How can I help? What support would you like from me?" Maybe she has always secretly wished she could be a train engineer, or a stockbroker. Keep listening, let her explore her options. Maybe she'd love you to support her so she can go back to college. Yuo may not be able to give her everything, but listening is incredibly helpful.
posted by theora55 at 3:45 PM on October 21, 2011

Oh my God, this was me as of last month. The in-house rejections and everything. It really was a blow to my self-esteem. Finally, I got fed up and applied for jobs outside of my organization. I got a new job that is more awesome, pays much more, and is in a city I really wanted to live in. It didn't even take that long.

So it can and does happen. It's hard to see it when you're in the middle of a dark time, but it will happen. She just has to keep taking steps to make sure that she can move forward. If it's any consolation, I realized that my underpaying job that I was overqualified did give me some experiences that probably helped a lot in landing my new job. Perhaps that is true for your wife as well?
posted by sugarbomb at 5:01 PM on October 21, 2011

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