Reacting Emotionally to work
January 16, 2014 4:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm a bit overwhelmed about how emotionally I am reacting to a situation at work. What are coping strategies I can use to deal with things tomorrow, and for the near short term.

I work in a high pressure, fast paced job, and I've excelled at it. Its never been something I liked (or even wanted to do), but damn it, I do well, I get paid well, and I work with smart people and generally interesting problems. Until recently every year I've either been handsomely rewarded for my work, or promoted.

About a year and a half ago I switched companies, and do the same thing, but managing a team. I got hired at a slightly lower level than I wanted, but assured I'd be promoted within the year; last year's bonus was rock solid, got a raise 4 months in, everything seemed to be on track. 2013 was the year larthegreat busted her ass for the new company- crazy team turnover, insane bosses, ridiculous business demands, yea I got it, did it and got praise from all sides. Up until 2 weeks ago- when I found out that the long promised/supposedly guaranteed promotion was no longer really in the cards. fine. dealt with it. Still have the same responsibilities, still managing a team.

This past week we found out about comp/who did get promoted. Turns out I was the only person in my division who was up for promotion who did not get it. Also turns out I have no increase in compensation. Ok, that's less cool, and I'm dissapointed.

My biggest issue is that I'm reacting to this extremely emotionally. I had to leave work early today because I could not compose myself, and I've been crying on and off since 3pm. I have a headache from this. I'm so frustrated I haven't even managed to feed myself, and pretty amazingly I haven't even had a drink yet.

I very rarely cry, and I very rarely react so emotionally to things. I suspect it's because I busted my ass doing a job I really don't like most of the time, and barely tolerate on the good days, and previously I've always been rewarded for doing so. I've dealt with failure before, but usually I spend some time processing. wrap my head around what happened and what can be done better, and then go and do that.

In any case, I've got meetings with people who made the decision tomorrow. I have to face all of my newly promoted colleagues tomorrow. (and everyone who knew I was up for promotion and didn't make it).

Coping strategies. Please.

I already went for a run today. a crying sniffling run that was gross and sweaty. not sure more exercise will help me tonight. Leaving this particular job is definitely an option, but probably not the industry and not for the next few months
posted by larthegreat to Work & Money (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I would cut yourself a break! You tried your best and were promised stuff that has not materialized. That hurts and it's totally reasonable to take 12 hours to recover from something you worked toward for 12 months. Take tonight to wallow in it-- really feel all your feels. Cry it out. Hug a dog or a friend or a pillow. Watch a distracting movie. Go for a walk. Get a good night's sleep. Take care of yourself in whatever way feels right.

You are smart and you do work hard and you will be able to handle the meetings tomorrow. If your colleagues are decent humans, they are all wondering why you got skipped over and will not bring it up.
posted by holyrood at 4:27 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have a bottle of water with you at the meeting. You can't cry and drink water at the same time.

But listen, you deserve to cry. You deserve to be angry, disappointed, sad, you name it. Start out by, for tonight, letting yourself just feel bad. Don't beat yourself up over a normal reaction to a really sucky event.

Next step: Do eat something. You know you should and you know that you will feel a little better -- physically, not necessarily emotionally -- when you do. Start with some orange juice, if that's possible. That will boost your blood sugar to a level where you can actually feed yourself properly.

Yeah, and don't drink. Not tonight. Save it for the weekend. It won't help and you'll just feel worse tomorrow.

When I'm in your position, trying really hard not to react just makes it worse for me because then I pile on the judgment about the reaction and react to that judgment etcetera. So please take care of yourself and allow yourself to feel what you're feeling.

Then bring that bottle of water with you tomorrow.
posted by janey47 at 4:28 PM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Let yourself feel like shit right now. They screwed you over and you should ultimately leave them. These are big things to deal with, but you don't have to deal with them right this second. Just be pissed off right now; don't repress it or feel that your reaction is disproportionate to the situation. It's perfectly normal.

Overall, reframe this as an opportunity for you to go off in a little while and find a better environment. Walk into that meeting knowing that all of these people will be stuck with one another for a long time. You don't have to be. Once you get through that, start thinking about where you want to go next and start making plans. Sometimes you get promoted and sometimes you have to promote yourself (by leaving).
posted by heyjude at 4:41 PM on January 16, 2014 [11 favorites]

Seconding janey47; I've found that really letting go, crying it ALL out until I'm exhausted, then chugging some water and hitting the hay will usually help me start the next day refreshed, focused, and in control.

I would also be very disappointed, angry, and frustrated in this situation. I have found it sometimes helps to do a free-write-- get out all the questions and angry thoughts and "what if?"s. (OTOH, if you think it might just lead to unproductive dwelling and bad feelings in the morning, maybe it's not right this time.)
posted by Schielisque at 4:44 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing that your feelings are completely legitimate and anyone would be just as upset in your shoes.

My favorite coping tactic, and I did have this sort of experience in a prior job, is talking this out with my Bear. If I didn't have him, I'd be calling my dearest friend and unloading. This is absolutely what those of us who call ourselves friends are for.

Also, obviously, though this is something to think about in the more medium term, these untruthful users don't deserve you. They have wrongfully failed to recognize your abilities and your work. I would definitely start looking now for a new workplace where there is honesty and enough brains to figure out your worth.

As a long term thought -- you probably should think about a job you DO like, because then the job itself is much more of a reward.
posted by bearwife at 4:57 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Drink a lot of water tonight and place cold compresses on your face to reduce any swelling as well as help calm you down. Maybe take a hot bath or a really long hot shower. Go to bed early and watch a favorite movie tonight. Whatever you do, get plenty of rest. In the morning psych yourself up, wear your favorite thing and don't forget to eat. If you're afraid that you'll get emotional during the meeting then make a point to take notes the entire time. Chewing on ice helps as does sipping on water. And concentrate on how brief that meeting will be in the scheme of things. Sometimes I get through tough days by forcing myself to focus on the absurdity of everything. Another trick I use is to remind myself how in one year (or three months/six months - whatever the case may be) none of this will matter anymore. Good luck.
posted by marimeko at 5:16 PM on January 16, 2014

You probably did too good a job in your current position and that is why they want you to stay where you are. They are jerks for not living up to their promise. I'm sorry you were treated so poorly.

Cry it out tonight, and read these tips on not crying. This thread has some good old fashioned MeFi advice.

I know your question asked for more immediate advice, but please do think about changing careers soon. I have been in your shoes before - good at something I didn't want to do for a career. I ended up choosing what I wanted to do instead and you know what? I'm good at that too - and I love it! And you will as well. Make the move!

Best of luck to you.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:42 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ask your doctor for some as-needed anxiety meds. They can take the rough edges off of days like tomorrow, leaving your mind clear to focus on bigger things like "Should I stay here?" and "How can I improve this situation?"
posted by IAmBroom at 5:46 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't get mad, get angry. They are REALLY going to regret this when they lose you. Failing to retain talent is a big mistake.
posted by amaire at 6:37 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

I really feel for you: I have been in a similar place before.

First, it is ok to rant/cry/be angry in your own space right now. Venting helps, and good that you wrote this question here. It does sound like you were treated unfairly for whatever reason (don't discard petty jealousy of people who might be threatened by your success). Memail anyone who's answer you like if you need more venting/support or talk to a friend.

Second, from my own experience, I know that once the eyes get wet, they tend to leak for days after with almost no reason, and that just sucks at work. I typically have few almonds or something with me and pop one or two in my mouth when I feel the tears. Even when speaking with someone, it doesn't look too crazy to have a small snack, and almonds do help to control blood sugar drops which typically don't affect me unless I am stressed (ergo crying)

If things do get bad, anxiety drugs in small doses do help. I know it's not the ideal solution, but sometimes you need to get through a patch so that you can think it through logically and possibly get support to figure out what to do. If you are exhausted and anxious, you will become more exhausted and anxious as you can't sleep, or make decisions. The stress becomes a vicious cycle: break it with whatever works for you and a half pill of lorezepam definitely helps me.

Third: you have time to make a decision about this situation. Don't make any decisions until you feel your stress went down. From everything you write, you seem like a level headed person, so you know you will make the right choice, just probably not right now.

Fourth: the weekend is coming, so take a breather and pamper yourself in whichever way makes you the most hedonistically-cat-like. If you don't feel up to it, don't go to work tomorrow, and start pampering. Everything will be fine!
posted by Yavsy at 6:55 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't go in, personally. I would use the three day weekend to brush off the resume and start applying to places that will value you. Go in Monday with the self confidence that you are going somewhere and your emotions not quite as exposed.
posted by saucysault at 9:14 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you were used to just getting by, being treated as if you were under-performing -- when you felt like you weren't -- would make you feel like crap. This is similar, except you're used to over-performing, and being treated as if you were just getting by is making you feel like crap.

The point being, it isn't a problem with your work that bothers you; it's the sense that you're being treated as if you're not performing up to the level you believe you're performing at. I can think of many reasons why this might be happening, and most of them aren't really about you or your performance:

- This company has a one-raise-per-period-of-time policy;
- This company has a limited budget for compensation increases, and other increases were put off last time to fulfill the initial promise to you (so now it is your turn to wait);
- This company has one or more employees that complained about your initial prompt increase, since you were so new to the company, so they're mitigating that reaction by slowing down on you for a while;
- Genuine, actual budget concerns that were solved (in part) by taking one of the last guys to get a raise (you) who is also a very recent hire and shorting him this time around;
- Somebody has developed a dislike for you, rational or otherwise;
- Somebody is concerned that if you move up too quickly you'll threaten their job;
- Your high performance is making someone else look bad;
- You are working with a lot of other high performers, making your skills less unique;
- Your performance missed the mark somehow, and they haven't told you.

If you have the kind of relationship with your boss that allows you to ask outright, do so: "I just wanted to check in on the status of [the promise], and whether you have any performance concerns to discuss with me. After all the work we've all been doing on [big nightmare project], it seems like a good time to check in with you."
posted by davejay at 9:38 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Meetings tomorrow: offer promoted colleagues congratulations (you don't have to mean it or even sound sincere, just say it out loud and force a smile) and stick to process, the agenda is your map. Coffee breaks as needed, out the door at 5.

Think about it. They are being woven deeper into this company. That's their future. I know there's something better out there for you.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:44 PM on January 16, 2014

You're upset because you busted your ass for a company and didn't feel it was recognized and worse you feel you were lied to. Can you take some time to compose yourself, and then talk to them about it? I would call in sick and give yourself some time to decide how to handle it. Seems you won't be settled by tomorrow and you've earned the day off. You might want to think about a job where you might actually be happy, because it doesn't sound like this one never made you happy. I get the sense you felt like you put your happiness on hold for career advancement, and then they denied you the career advancement and you got neither. It's time to do you. Maybe this is the moment where you say "Fuck it" and do what you want. Might not be so bad.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:08 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the advice guys. I didn't really manage to have much of a dinner, but at least I chugged water like a crazy person, took some sleep meds and got 10hrs of real sleep. Not exactly hungry, but i'll force myself to eat a breakfast.

I like the idea of talking things out, but on some level its not very practical, as quite frankly I make a bunch of money, and crying over not getting more money is on some level a bit absurd and probably flat out insulting to friends who make less than half of what I pull in. Just writing the question did force me to really think about why I was so upset and that did help things a bit. A lot of it boiled down to working in what we call "a relative metritocracy" where you are compared against people across the firm as well as vs your performance. I've always done very well in such enviroments, but I suspect that as I try to keep moving up the ranks, firm politics are beginning to come into play, and I need to level up my soft skills.

Davejay has a bunch of great alternatives to why I didn't get promoted, and while I had considered some of them, yesterday I was all 'BETRAYAL' and wasn't really able to process it.
posted by larthegreat at 4:22 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I make a bunch of money, and crying over not getting more money is on some level a bit absurd and probably flat out insulting to friends who make less than half of what I pull in.

Bullshit! Money and promotions are your job's way of validating your work. You SHOULD take it seriously, no matter how much you make, because that's the measure of value in your career.

Certainly, learn from your managers what things they need to see to reward you, but really, start looking for a new gig.

They can knock you down, but when they steal your milk money, it's time to leave.

You should NEVER be blindsided by a review, and if you were tooting along, doing what you thought was exemplary work, and then you discover that there were issues, that's a failure of management.

You have a right to be angry and frustrated. Be open to what your managers have to say, but realize that you may need to brush off your resume and move on, because this situation is bullshit.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:47 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Work dynamics are so frustring because they epitomize the adage that "Life is not fair." At my last job I couldn't figure out why, in spite of the fact that I was breaking my ass for them on a daily basis and even on my own time, I was being ignored, while others were gushed over and touted for minor accomplishments (as in: Thanks so much, Kari, for photocoping these materials for the meeting. Wow, your staples are really straight!). Every few months there would be a new management favorite, over whom much fuss was made, and then they would turn on that person and switch to lauding somebody else. It was beyond dysfunctional, and I knew that being singled out at that place, even for praise, could also be the kiss of death when the spotlight winked out.

I began to realize that the game was rigged, to the extent that nothing I did could change their perception of me, and I stopped fighting for recognition.

In your job, you're not being rated exclusively on what you produce. Personal factors come into this. Often you'll see employers who promote an incompetent employee because this person is well-liked, or somebody in power likes them. There is always stuff going on that has little to do with actual performance. Not all workplaces are like this, but many are - and I'd say most dysfunctional workplaces are.

This is not to say you should work on being more likeable, or try to suck up more, or try to figure out what it is that the promotable types are doing that you're not. That's going down the wrong path. Managers are human, and even well-meaning ones will be tainted by irrational preferences, swayed by gossip, driven by their own demons, etc. A lot of things can and will distort their perception of how you're doing. You can affect some of this, but in the long run you can't really control the big picture.

These days I document everything, from day one. I don't trust that my managers even have the slightest idea what I do in my job, so I would never leave it to them to go to bat for me to the board, company owners, etc. Do your own heavy lifting, and document your accomplishments weekly. If you're passed over for a promotion, or find yourself being scapegoated for any reason, you've got this documentation. If your managers are reasonable, your presentation of your case might make a difference in what goes down. You've got to try it, anyway.

But life is not fair, and workplaces are notoriously unfair. So don't blame yourself when crazy shit happens. If you're good at what you do, you'll have a good chance of finding a new situation where your talents and dedication will be rewarded, and where a track record of great work matters more than whatever arbitrary standards some random people who happen to have power are using to measure your value to them.
posted by cartoonella at 6:27 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding what Ruthless Bunny said about being blindsided by a review being a failure of management. That should never, ever happen, and if you do intend to stay in your job for a while, I recommend raising that specific issue with your boss. You can frame it as "hey I was very surprised by this, I am eager to address any issues as they happen and I want feedback right away so I can course- correct."

It does sound like whatever is going on has very little to do with your actual performance, but addressing the issue straight on will let them know that you expect to be treated fairly and cannot be taken for granted.

And, BTW, congratulations on handling this situation in a very professional way.
posted by rpfields at 8:25 AM on January 17, 2014

In the future, don't get blindsided by this stuff. If you're expecting a promotion, talk to your boss about that promotion 6 months before the time you would receive it, and ask if there's any reason that you wouldn't be on track for that. Then again at 3 months. This decision wasn't made last week, it was made weeks ago in the comp and reviews process, and there's no reason this should have been a shock to you.
But definitely go into your boss' office and ask what the hell, man. It is your boss that gets you the promotion or doesn't, in the end, or your boss' boss. They aren't advocating for you strongly enough, and you deserve to understand why that is.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:20 PM on January 18, 2014

Just a quick update, have had all my meetings- looks like I got primarily burnt on a technicality- duration of service. All three managers I spoke to emphasised that I did not do anything wrong, my performance is pretty damn good, and I now have quarterly checkpoints scheduled with the regional head, to ensure that any feedback getting to him is also ultimately getting back to me.

Ch1x0r, the reason I got blindsided is that all of my reviews have been so positive, and that everyone has mentioned that I'm a shoe-in for promotion at every point. I have bi-weekly meetings scheduled with my direct manager (who still can't even look me in the eye), bi-monthly meetings with her boss (formerly I'd chat with him only when I needed advice on a particular situation), and now quarterly checkpoints with the regional head. Between the three of them I should be getting honest and realistic feedback. "Should be" being the operative phrase.
posted by larthegreat at 9:04 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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