I think I'm in a bad place, and I'm afraid to leave. Why?
June 8, 2012 4:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm an depressed employee in what I think could be defined as a toxic work environment. Another opportunity is popping up elsewhere - why does it feel so hard to jump ship?

So, this was me. I've become marginally better, but still am doing pretty poorly work output-wise. Also, I've had additional illnesses and health problems come up besides the aforementioned, and have had to take a lot of time off, so that's no help either.

Even in the midst of this depression I seemed to have impressed? charmed? a supervisor/boss in a different part of the org. during an casual meeting/interview, to the point that it looks like I will have an offer from them soon (in the same very large org., but in a very different branch). My friend works with this person sometimes, their offices are physically nearby, and my friend helped set up the chat. The boss seems like a good one. It's a promotion. Yay, right? But I'm still not sure, and I'm really stressed out. I just can't figure out why.

I am worried that I can't take on the increased responsibilities like being a supervisor to others.The new work would be more technical, and high profile. I'm worried about screwing up and being like I am now (always late to work, space cadet-like, etc., as per last askme post) in front of my friend and other people I respect. Commute is further out in the suburbs, and makes public transport more difficult, but it's not horrendous and I do have a car.

Hypothetically my current office is a somewhat better fit to my interests subject-wise, but overall is an unhappy work environment where 80% of office talk is complaining about the boss, and the boss is unpredictable and can be really mean to people. Current boss has chewed me out a few times, but I feel like current boss is TRYING to be nicer to me. We still barely ever talk though. This current boss is hard to meet with (always is busy), and I think scares me. From my current coworkers' stories this current boss also does not take resignations well. (doesn't want to acknowledge the departing person, the coworkers are afraid to have any sort of goodbye celebration/acknowledgement, that kind of thing.)

So... what the heck? I should be excited, but I'm sad and scared. I guess I'm sad to be moving after less than a year, and I feel like I've made very little impact and have been very unproductive in my current role. New office has suggested they could take me on in as little as a month, so this is all moving so fast.

I guess maybe there's some comfort in staying put and hiding in my office all day, barely completing anything, like I am now. But part of me thinks that if I really enjoyed/wanted to be a slacker, then I wouldn't be so upset all the time about being one.

I don't know if that's enough to go on -- and my last post that i linked to above says a bit more. But if you've ever been in this weird situation and have thoughts or insights to share about trying to figure out why I'm sad and scared and stressed, your input is appreciated. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you've figured it out. You act like you have one shot at this new job and you have to be perfect to accept it. That's not true. Also, if you screw up the new job you'll get another chance somewhere else. Also, keep in mind your enjoyment of research will be more handy at the new job. It's not weird to be a better fit for a better job.
posted by michaelh at 5:07 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

My wife just went through something similar, except she was teaching. Horrible environment, unpredictably psycho boss who pretended to be nice up until the point she could start ripping people a new asshole, stuff like that.

Don't say anything to the current boss until you have a new job locked up. And when that happens, run like Hell!

After my wife left, she was suddenly able to sleep again and her stress levels dropped like crazy. Even now, if the conversation starts being about her old job you can see large amounts of anger and anxiety creep into her face and posture.

If your current job is really that bad then you need to get out. Take this new one in the company when it's offered, or go somewhere entirely new. But it's not worth it to go through Hell everyday.
posted by theichibun at 5:12 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your current environment is stressful and hellish, but it's a variety of stress and hell that you know and are used to. It's totally natural to worry that you're jumping into a worse situation, too -- you thought this would work, so what's saying the new situation won't be worse?

This is the stress and the depression and the health problems lying to you. You can do this. You're just going to have to fake it for a little while, and you can do that.

If you haven't already come across this excellent post on how sick systems like your office work, I think reading it might be helpful and might help you get a bit of perspective on the situation.

Focus on getting out. Acknowledge the stress and the suck, but don't let it stop you. Ten years from now, you're not even going to remember the details -- the results are what will matter. And things are going to be so much better on the other side.
posted by pie ninja at 5:20 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have been in this position. I attribute it to "the devil you know" -- ie, your current situation is horrible, but you know the ways in which it is horrible, so you have, to some extent, come up with coping mechanisms (which are often somewhat dysfunctional in themselves -- like hiding and doing little work when that is not what you really want to do). So your brain (or at least your anxiety), which craves continuity, would rather keep those coping mechanisms and your bad situation than risk an unknown situation, which it feels could be worse (even though that is pretty unlikely).

I would seek the new job as best I could, and, if I got it, give my old boss exactly the amount of required notice, then do my best to not engage.

Years ago I was in a mildly toxic environment where my boss (not a terrible guy himself, but kind of lazy, which exacerbated matters) left me to do all the work while he took very long lunches. During one of these, I received a call that confirmed a job offer. When the boss returned, I said "I am putting in my two weeks' notice."
"You're joking."
"Nope, I am putting in my two weeks' notice. Starting today."
"You can't do that!"
"Two weeks' notice."
"What am I going to do?"
"I am afraid that is no longer my concern."

The new job was a big jump, but it made me much happier.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:24 AM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I can definitely relate to this.

I think sometimes when a person's in a bad situation, they're afraid to think things might get better. They might think, "If I fail at the job I'm in now, it's because it's a terrible, toxic environment. If I take a different job and fail, it proves I am a failure." Or "If I'm unhappy now, it's because I'm in a terrible, toxic environment. If I get out of that environment, and I'm still unhappy, then it proves I cannot be happy ever."

Even if the new job isn't all you hope it might be, it won't mean any of those things. It will just mean you get another chance to strategize and figure out what direction you should go in next.

"Things will not get better" is one of the things that depression tells you. And it puts up a fight if you try to prove it wrong.
posted by Jeanne at 5:28 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone else who's not up for a lot of job stress myself, I think you should take the new job. You know the current one is terrible for you; new job is an unknown quantity. This feels to me like a case where the devil you know is definitely NOT better than the devil you don't. (On preview, words like "devil" and "Hell" are coming up a lot in the comments!)

Once you're there, keep tabs on how you feel, and try to set up monthly one-on-one meetings with your new boss as a check-in; communications in those meetings should be a two-way street. Do you have a therapist, mentor, or trusted friend who can be counted on to tell you the truth? Stay in touch with that person regularly and be as honest as you can about how you feel and any recurrent, SIGNIFICANT performance problems on the new job. (An occasional space-out is not a big deal.)

Don't pay much attention to new-job stress or beginner mistakes over the first couple of weeks as a sign that You Can't Do The Job. After a couple of months or so, it'll become clearer as to whether you can handle the new position (you will still be making beginner mistakes and that generally is OK). If you can handle it, yay! If you can't, look for something less stressful; maybe something would be available at the new place.

If you're concerned about retaliation by your current boss, don't let anyone at your current job know where you are going. You don't owe anyone an explanation.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:41 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Leaving a job that's not right for you is like leaving a relationship that's not right for you. You know it's the best option, but you give yourself all sorts of reasons not to do it.

They're pretty much the same ones too - but what if I'm without a job/relationship for a while, but what if the next one isn't right for me and this one turns out to be better, but this one isn't so bad really...

It's all fear speaking, anyway. It's just your brain trying to dissuade you from risk-taking, but as we know, you have to take risks to get rewards, and your job, your relationships, these are the Big Important Things where it can be the most rewarding to take risks.

Do it - the challenge will be exhilarating and maybe just what you need to snap you out of your stupor. Or maybe, the change you need to start looking for other, better jobs. It doesn't matter. Unhappy job or unhappy relationship, it is almost never the best option to just keep on being miserable.
posted by greenish at 6:01 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my somewhat-similar situation, depression was a huge factor in not jumping ship sooner. I was a teacher at a very dysfunctional school with an evil administrator (in fact, I just checked theichibun's profile to see if my husband was secretly a member, because that post describes my exact situation).

I knew I needed to leave. I had options, though initially not as concrete as yours. But the depression kept going, "Oh, what's the point? It's always going to suck, and the next place could be just as bad." Once I got the depression and anxiety under control (this took medication and some adjusting), I could see, as if through someone else's eyes, exactly how damaging the place was for me and how much I needed to leave. It was still scary, but no longer paralyzing, and I left that joint and am very happy to be employed somewhere that's a much better fit.

I know from your previous post that you're working with mental health professionals, but I didn't note whether or not you're being treated for depression. Might be something to consider. It made a huge difference for me, but of course YMMV.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:19 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Part of your toxic job situation is that the environment itself has convinced you that things are just bad and that's how it is, and there's nothing that can be done to change it, so don't try. That's how toxic job situations continue to exist: until someone does the Network thing of saying, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!", nothing will change. Usually, before they get to that point, the unhappy person falls into a new job -- like you have.

As a manager who hires people on a regular basis: if you are hired, it's because they think they can train you to do the job with the least amount of effort. The "train" part is what most people forget: few people get hired because they're perfect -- every new job requires a whole lot of training to get you up to speed, as long as you already have the basics down. The stuff you already know reduces the amount of training you need, but that's seen as a positive by the hiring person. They're looking at your resume and saying, "well, if all we have to do is train her how to manage people, we're in good shape." You benefit because you're getting told exactly how to succeed at your new job. You're not succeeding at your current one, so why keep failing?

So, look at it this way: your current job sucks, but your new job is going to spend the first couple weeks training you on how to be happy and productive in your new job. So, don't worry about how you suck in your current position: look forward to being shown how awesome you can be at the new job.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:26 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Dude, this is such a universal feeling that it is the subject of the most famous soliloquy of all time. It feels much easier to deal with the evils we know than to exchange them for an unknown situation, even if there is a high likelihood that those troubles will be gone in the new environment. Bare your bodkin, drop your fardels, and set out bravely for your undiscovered country!
posted by Rock Steady at 6:31 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm 5 months into a brand new job after working over a decade at my old job with the last 5 years being pretty bad.

A huge reason I didn't want to leave was that I didn't want to leave my coworkers in a lurch. I had a "we're all in this together" mentality and was feeling guilty about abandoning them and moving on. But just as I was happy when my coworkers would leave the company, my coworkers were wildly happy when I finally I got out.

I was also afraid that after so much time stagnating and working on things that were very proprietary to the company and industry I was in I would be worthless to any other company. Not true. My new job is very different from my old job, but I'm using many of the same skills. My brain hurts in a good way from learning so much and having to really WORK at my job. I get to work early now because I want to. I haven't taken a sick day here yet and at the last place I was always catching colds and getting bad headaches.

Please read pie ninja's link. I sleep like a baby now and I don't cry on Sunday nights anymore.

Sending strength and courage your way!
posted by ladygypsy at 6:55 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I may be totally off-beam here but I'm also wondering if there is an emotional issue.

When I was in my toxic job I hated it, but I had to cope, so I suppressed my anger and frustration and got on with it. When planning to leave I was afraid that once I left, and things got better, the better environment would make me realise how bad the old one was by comparison, and I would become uncontrollably angry. So I dithered and spent way longer trying to convince myself toxic job was not really so bad, even though I passionately hated it and I think everyone knew that. I guess I was worried that I would feel like a fool for having waited so long to get out and would hate myself (because in my case the signs of toxicity were there very early on, and I ignored them)

BUT in my case - I left, am now in a very different and much better environment for me, and the anger, feeling of foolishness or other bad emotions never came up at all. When I left I was just relieved to be out of there - it was that simple.

Another thing - is there part of you that thinks this new job is too good to be true, or that you don't deserve it somehow? Personally I sometimes struggle with feelings of entitlement when it comes to good fortune, or things I don't absolutely NEED.
posted by EatMyHat at 6:59 AM on June 8, 2012

Change can be scary. That said, working in a negative toxic environment is bad for you, take the new opportunity as a compliment to you and run with it.
My last day in a negative long term temp job is next Friday, can't wait to be happy again. I'm moving to a much better temp opportunity, less pay, longer say, i am thrilled at the trade off.
posted by jennstra at 7:20 AM on June 8, 2012

change is always hard - but so often, it is for the best.

there is no way to prepare yourself either, you just have to do it. the pool water is cold, inching into it makes it harder - just jump into the deep end - trust me, it will be refreshing.
posted by Flood at 8:15 AM on June 8, 2012

Do it! and be very careful how you leave. I used to work in a sick-system office, and when a coworker had left previously I knew that the Evil Boss (tm) had actually called her new employer to try to poison the waters there for her. So I just said I was leaving to take care of family issues--no information about my future job plans. Make that toxic environment part of your past. As others have mentioned above, you'll have some tough emotional stuff to get through, but you owe it to yourself to try.
posted by lily_bart at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2012

Stockholm Syndrome, my friend. You have to sympathize with your aggressors in order to justify your position among them.

Go. Do it kindly, and you must hold the line that you are doing this because it's a logical/beneficial career move and a better fit for your skills and nothing personal. It's not supposed to be personal, people are supposed to come and go.

Your relief will be so immense, you don't even know.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:54 AM on June 8, 2012

Because working in a toxic environment undermines your self confidence in all sorts of ways.
posted by Good Brain at 8:56 AM on June 8, 2012

If you had a dull, painful throb for years, one that kept you slightly bent over as you walked, kept you from using your body to the fullest, kept you from enjoying simple things like walks, you'd probably get used to it; you'd think "oh, I am sad that I have this dull, painful throb", but you wouldn't think it bad enough to do something about, in large part because change is stressful and requires effort and it isn't really that bad and you've been fine for all these years so it won't make a difference...and so on.

And then something catalyses you to go to the doctor and get the surgery to remove the throb, and yes it is stressful, and yes you have to go through recovery, so in the short term it makes you worse off...and then a few weeks later, you find yourself bounding up the stairs, feeling fantastic, standing upright and looking at the world in a whole new way, and your only negative thought is "wow, I was an idiot for not getting that dull, painful throb taken care of years ago!"

You have no idea how much better off you will be, and that's why you don't feel motivated, because you feel like a new job would really not be much better for all the stress you'll have to take on to change jobs...but believe me, it will be. Even if you accidentally take another job that is just as bad, you'll still have several months of happiness until you realize it, and then when you realize it you'll be much, much quicker to change jobs again until you find a good one.

Start now!
posted by davejay at 9:00 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and: change is hard. People don't like to change until they have to, and your situation is one where you should change, but you don't have to change. That's the other thing preventing you from moving. Everybody suffers from this, whether it is "I'm not sure if I should end my relationship, because it isn't that bad" or "I'm not sure if I should change jobs, because it isn't that bad" or "I'm not sure if I should send this undercooked chicken back, because it is only a little bit pink." That kind of thinking is common, ordinary, typical, and totally counterproductive for all people involved.
posted by davejay at 9:03 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

So... what the heck? I should be excited, but I'm sad and scared.

Right, because as you yourself point out several times, you're depressed. I totally think you should take this new job, but I also 100% think you should see your GP and/or a therapist. If you don't take steps to address the depression, you're going to be back in the same place in 6 months all over again.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:17 PM on June 8, 2012

But I'm still not sure, and I'm really stressed out. I just can't figure out why.

You're depressed. This is called anhedonia, the brain chemical imbalance has stolen your ability to feel happy. Thus all you're getting is normal job changing related stress without the usual dose of glee. This is a clinical symptom of your medical problem and why you can't just tell jokes to depressed people until they smile.
posted by Phalene at 2:43 PM on June 8, 2012

I am worried that I can't take on the increased responsibilities like being a supervisor to others.

Well here's the thing - are you worried because you've never done it, or are you worried because you KNOW you can't do it, or that you don't want to do it?

If it's the first thing, well, TRY IT. Try it, and say, "I'm going to try my best, and that's what they're going to get." They interviewed you, right? If they like your answers enough to give you the job, there must be something there. Turn your nervous energy into productive energy. Learn from your past. What did you not like about your last supervisor? Don't do what s/he does.

If you want this job, take it. Knowing that you've never done it before is actually a perfect safety net - you can give it your best shot and simply say at the end of next year that it's not what you wanted, without hurting anyone's feelings.

The new work would be more technical, and high profile. I'm worried about screwing up and being like I am now (always late to work, space cadet-like, etc., as per last askme post)

I have almost always been chronically late for jobs - the one exception was when I truly enjoyed what I was doing. With that job I'd arrive HOURS early. If your new work is technical, try to take joy in the details of what you do - find something about the job to latch onto and make your own.

I think you should take the job if the current place is toxic. Reassure yourself that you're human and you can't be perfect at a job immediately.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 4:02 PM on June 8, 2012

increased responsibilities, being a supervisor to others, more technical, high profile. I'm worried about screwing up.

Talk to potential new boss, and ask what support will be available to you, in the most positive way possible, and ask for help doing the best job possible. Ask if the company has any training plan for new supervisors, technical training, etc. Ask is there's anyone Potential New Boss could recommend as a mentor. It's likely that you can do well, especially if you have good training and support.

What if you take the new job, and it doesn't work out? Unless you're an older worker, trying new jobs is usually a great career move, even if it isn't wildly successful. You learn and grow and make new contacts, and position yourself for more learning and growing. You're depressed and not doing well. Worst case? You might get depressed and not do well, but have taken a risk. Best case? You do well, feel great, make more money.

What if there are more options? Are you looking at jobs in the company and at other companies? Maybe there's an even more awesome job for you.
posted by theora55 at 9:29 AM on June 9, 2012

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