How do I cope with a horrible job that I do not want to quit?
March 6, 2012 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Ok, so I have the job from hell. But I've decided to stick it out for the next year and a half. How do I keep my sanity?

My employer is paying for me to gain a qualification that I have already started and wish to finish. This qualification requires that I have a full-time job. I could, in theory, get a job at another place and continue my studies, but I have decided that I want to stay where I am.

I enjoy the work I am currently doing, but the staff dynamic is absolutely horrendous. I won't go into too much detail, but the woman in charge (my employer) has a serious mean streak (micromanager, throws things, is patronising, the works); my supervisor has basically all but quit; to top it off the middle aged, deeply unhappy senior receptionist has recently taken it upon herself to critique the work of my colleagues and I loudly, in front of the lunatic boss. Other than that things are fantastic.

So now that I have made this decision, I am looking for advice on how to cope. 90% of the time I can just shrug the bulk of this crap away, but sometimes I feel like I am on the verge of losing my cool and just walking out, forever. How do I keep my cool? How should I handle myself when my boss goes off the chain, knowing that my supervisor won't help or back me up? At the very least, how do I get the receptionist to back the fuck off without making her act even worse? Thanks hivemind.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The only way I can think of to do that is to just stop caring at all, about anything, at this job.
posted by thelonius at 6:51 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You keep your sanity by knowing you only need to be there for another 1.5 years.
posted by mleigh at 6:56 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Imagine you are an actor in a surreal comedy about a massively fucked-up workplace, and despite being in the middle of it all, you are just there to play your part and then go home. Best of all, the theatre is only running your play for a limited time.
posted by Behemoth at 7:01 PM on March 6, 2012 [28 favorites]

Sounds like my old job, enough so that I'd be worried that it was the same job, except for your boss being female. Obviously, I didn't make it, but neither did most people, so one possible thing to look forward to is that the parts of your work problems that are not your boss will eventually disappear since they don't have to stick around and gain a qualification. After less than 2 years at my old place, I was the senior person on staff, because everyone else was fired or quit. It sounds like your receptionist and supervisor are on the brink as it is.
posted by LionIndex at 7:02 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Once you stop caring, you can use that extra time to carefully picture what you're looking for in your next job. With 1.5 years, you have plenty of time to make sure that the next job you take isn't just better, it's exactly what you're looking for. So to people! Ask them about what's great about their jobs, and what sucks. Once you figure out what the characteristics of your ideal job would be, network ruthlessly towards your goal, and begin putting out real feelers towards your next position at least 6 months in advance of your planned departure. That is, assuming that you don't have other plans already.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:34 PM on March 6, 2012

Figure out some way to make a contest out of it, like those Buzzword Bingo things a few years ago. Maybe you track points for the ranting receptionist for each person in the office - lowest points at the end of the week wins. Make up points for things the boss hits when she throws things - wall=1, desk=2, pencil cup=3; ricochet off the chair and hit the computer=15. Can you walk past a certain aisle without getting yelled at? - 5 points.
posted by CathyG at 7:36 PM on March 6, 2012

Missing word: talk to people. Also, if you're anything like some of my former colleagues in my last crap job, talking to people outside of your day to day work environment but within your industry will be a) be a huge stress release valve and b) make you start thinking more seriously about how much you're willing to tolerate in your workplace.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:36 PM on March 6, 2012

Make it a personal challenge to make it suck less, in any way you are capable.
posted by ian1977 at 7:45 PM on March 6, 2012

Throws things? At you??? Tirades?

How about an assault charge? Can you record her nastiness and go to HR? Threaten to take it to the supers super?
posted by BlueHorse at 7:48 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My apartment building is kind of like this. I tune it out by scanning Zillow and saving my pennies, if you know what I mean.
posted by rhizome at 7:50 PM on March 6, 2012

Time to check out. There comes a time at a bad job where you know that you're on your way out, you have no intention of ever returning, and you don't care anymore. Disavow any emotional investment you have in your job right now. Leave it at the door. Start counting your days.

Can you go for walks when your coworkers really start to get under your skin? Take frequent breaks, walk around, get a snack. You don't care about the job anyway, right? Then what do you stand to gain by letting it get to you?
posted by deathpanels at 8:50 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Accept that there is no keeping of your sanity. Just let that go. You are working full time(?) in a terrible work environment, it is going to affect you.

For 'coping' I recommend a pseudonymic twitter account and/or comics. Something to blow off the steam through creative mockery?

I'm sure you've looked into it, but you don't mention whether your workplace has a clawback provision for educational funding.
posted by tamarack at 9:02 PM on March 6, 2012

Sorry the job is so trying; it sounds really awful. My own job is only that way occasionally. But there are days I get through by repeating the mantra, "If it were fun, they wouldn't pay me to do it." If that mantra helps you even a little bit . . .
posted by wjm at 12:36 AM on March 7, 2012

Bit of a long shot seeing as your supervisor isn't supportive and your boss is mad. But can you work from home a few days a week? Having some physical distance may be less stressful even if you're doing the same work, because at the very least you're not around to be hit by flying staplers.

When I worked in a toxic environment, the thing that helped me was that my co-workers were going through the same thing. We'd go out for lunches and would get a whole lot of bitching off our chest. I'm not saying that bitching to co-workers is a good idea because in many cases it's totally the wrong thing to do. But it really helped me to know that other people were in the same position.

If the thing with the crazy receptionist is a recent thing, can you drop her an email or have a quick meeting to say that you'd appreciate it if she could speak to you in person before highlighting her problems with your work in front of the entire workforce. Even if it doesn't have any effect, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you didn't just lie down and take it.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:59 AM on March 7, 2012

Is your hair long enough that it could hide earplugs or earbuds?
posted by mareli at 4:13 AM on March 7, 2012

At the very least, how do I get the receptionist to back the fuck off without making her act even worse?

If there any way you can befriend her? I don't mean go out for drinks with her, but get her to see you as an ally.

I'm probably projecting my own stuff here-- I did hard time in a job where everyone was toxic, but the most obvious irritant was an office manager who you could see and hear the minute you walked in the door. "Deeply unhappy" was exactly what she was. I just started sitting and chatting with her a couple of times a week. First I had to apologize for some stuff I did that was making her hostile to me. But I was able to get her in my side enough to feel like at least the first person I saw wasn't on the attack.
posted by BibiRose at 4:40 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

How do I keep my sanity?

Think carefully about what you are asking here. If you're so near the brink that you're coming here to ask a question that screams veddy veddy bad situation, do you really think another 1.5 years of known anticipated horror is worth whatever credential you're trying to get? Hard to say without knowing the details, but still, asking a question like that is not a good sign at all.
posted by telstar at 4:56 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anything worth doing is going to be hard, but the question is when to stick it out. Sounds like you're in a situation where you need to stick it out.

First thing that comes to my mind is creating an alternate form of entertainment based upon your coworkers' actions.

For example, begin recording rants and annoying conversations (via your iPhone or whatever), then start a tumblr with a clever name. Next, autotune these conversations and provide them on the internet for free without naming the participants in the project. Provide a brief description of what happened that day at work with the accompanying audio file. Just an idea—might be legally crossing the line somehow.

Or, change your approach to people and measure their reactions. Try smiling a lot. Measure the results. Try being extremely complementing one day. See what happens. Try being abnormally quieter than usual. See the results.

The basic idea is to turn whatever you can that's difficult into some sort of game that makes reality feel lighter.
posted by uncannyslacks at 6:28 AM on March 7, 2012

I've noticed that bad situations get worse for me when I spend all my time talking about how shitty it is. When I reinforce the shittiness on a regular basis it becomes harder and harder to cope with.

So my advice is to keep your head down and not talk about how bad it is while you are at work, do not take on the bad things that are happening to co-workers as your own, and only talk about the positive aspects of your job when you're not there (if you can't do that avoid conversations about work altogether). Instead focus on things that make you happy and make sure you do those things as much as possible. If people ask you how work is going, say that you are so grateful that it gives you the opportunity to get that qualification. If they press, focus on other aspects of your job that you enjoy and change the subject. Just put on your rose-colored glasses, study for your qualification, and go about your business.
posted by Kimberly at 8:23 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've noticed that bad situations get worse for me when I spend all my time talking about how shitty it is. When I reinforce the shittiness on a regular basis it becomes harder and harder to cope with.

I have the exact same experience. When I get stuck thinking about how shitty a situation is, or constantly (as opposed to occasionally) venting to friends and Facebook about the suckitude, I feel so much worse - and it creates a negative loop where I dwell on the crap, the crap gets crappier, I dwell on it more...etc.

So: Detach, detach, detach. If you can, use meditation or biofeedback (there are apps for smartphones) to keep your body as calm as possible. Pretend you are an underground reporter assigned to Shitty Job to report on it - you are on the job but not of it.

- Do the minimum necessary to keep your job. Don't try to excel (unless your job depends on it). Do what you have to do and no more. Put as little energy into the job as you can possibly get away with.

- Socialize on the job as little as you can possibly get away with. Do the minimum interaction your job requires, no more.

- Does your workplace allow earbuds? Load up as much soothing and/or upbeat music on your iPod as you can, stick in those earbuds, and detach. Not having to listen to what is going on around you can help.

- Get away from your desk as often as you can get away with - for lunch, breaks and so on. Take long walks. Eat in the lunchroom or a park instead of at your desk.

- Have the best life outside of work that you can possibly make for yourself. Cultivate your friendships (and don't use them for nonstop venting!). Volunteer. Go to a museum, park, or something else fun on the weekend. Have some absorbing hobbies. Exercise (this really helps!).

- Start looking for a new job right now so you can jump into a better one ASAP when you can quit this one.

- "This, too, shall pass" should be your mantra.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:54 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

The advice about not getting sucked into the negative-venting-kvetching-bitchingandmoaning vortex is spot on. If there's someone you get along with at work and you can roll your eyes at each other when things get crazy, then fine. But don't start venting with coworkers.

My department is dysfunctional and very small--an incompetent but powerful boss, a demoralized veteran designer, and me. For a long time, the designer and I used each other as sounding boards. It seemed a relief at first, to blow off steam, not feel like you're crazy, not feel like you're going through something alone, whatever. But after a while it really just fed the negative vibe rather than relieving it. She's been on maternity leave for 2 months and I've felt much better about my job, been productive, made some headway against the boss's idiocy, seen the other execs take notice and ask for my help directly on various projects, etc. Because I wasn't wrapped up in the existing dynamic.

So just go in, do your job, be patient and breathe when other people are negative, but don't put up with abuse. Throwing things? I'd tell that person we can talk later when you have calmed down. But for the general negativity, change the subject, say if I think too much about it I'll feel grar! so I'm just going to focus on getting this report done.
posted by headnsouth at 10:55 AM on March 7, 2012

I once worked in a situation almost identical to what you described. Instead of 1.5 years, I stayed for two years. In that time, I lost my soul. Trust me, I tried every technique in the book about distancing yourself, detaching, not giving a care about anything, staying positive, keeping busy, focusing on work not drama, yadda yadda yadda. What I learned was that not caring was not who I was, and the less I cared, the less I was myself. After 2 years of that (of essentially pretending to be something I was not), I was only a shell of my former self. I left with a great deal of Complex-PTSD. I left that job nearly four years ago, and I am only now starting to get my soul & my old mojo back. If older, wiser me could go back and tell younger me what to do in that situation, I'd say what I'm telling you: leave this place. It isn't worth it. The success & qualifications you seek are yours- somewhere else.

Please know that I (and others who commented above) are not being negative or discouraging when we say you won't be able to make it in a place like this for long, it's that we've been there, too, and we don't want anyone else to go through the horrible experiences that we once did, including you.

And I'm Nthing those who say not to put up with the abuse. Life is too short and your sanity is too valuable. You deserve better. Run!
posted by chatelaine at 11:24 AM on March 7, 2012

Well, I think you should find another job and leave. This sounds really shitty.

But, if you must stay - do what the AA people do.

1.5 years is a long time. If you keep thinking about the 1.5 years ahead of you, you'll go crazy. But no individual day is going to break you. So just focus on today, every day. Every morning, when you head to work, ask yourself: "can I make it through today?" And then don't think past that. And repeat.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:32 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Detach. That's how you deal with people who are screwed up. You can't fix 'em, not at work, anyway. Be courteous, do good work, and spend as little time with negative people as possible. Document the boss' crazy behavior. Reward good behavior with positivity. If the boss comes to meeting prepared, "Thanks for prepping this meeting so well." If the receptionist says something useful, I don't know what you said to Customer Q, but he appreciated it. thanks." Be positive, set a good example, and do your best not to add to the bad.
posted by theora55 at 5:56 PM on March 7, 2012

Meditation at home, as well as a focus in living each day in the present as Ragged Richard suggests.

Also, if there's anyone you get along with really well at this job who sees how terrible it is and has a good sense of humor, I suggest turning the extremes of the place into a joke rather than venting seriously about it. That way you get the "release" that venting would give you, without that self-feeding cycle of anger people mention above. This is what my co-workers and I have done in my last two toxic job situations. Being able to laugh about Boss's behavior on a temper tantrum day takes away some of the power she has to wreck your day, too.
posted by houndsoflove at 5:57 PM on March 7, 2012

I totally get what chatelaine is saying, and for the most part I agree. But to add a different perspective, I figured out that I really needed to leave a past toxic job about a year before I was ready to do it for a variety of reasons. I'm not going to say it was fun and not soul-sucking because it most definitely wasn't fun and it was very soul-sucking, but I made it through ok. I did a lot of work after I left to be really introspective about the situation and figure out what I would never put up with again though.

If it gets to the point where you are completely miserable all the time, and it is affecting your health--perhaps you should consider your health and well being more important than the qualification though.

Good luck!
posted by Kimberly at 10:47 AM on March 8, 2012

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