Should I return to this job?
January 30, 2014 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I am moving back home to save up money for grad school, and I’m wondering whether I should return to my first real-world job. I wouldn't mind doing so, but I’d like some perspective on the work environment I found myself in. (Warning: long post ahead)

Thanks to past posts here on the green, I’ve learned a lot about the reality of office politics and unglamorous first jobs. However, I also wonder whether what I’ve encountered at my first job is really standard, or is it unusual? I've encountered the normal stuff that most people deal with—boring work and drinking Kool-Aid that I personally don’t believe in. That's whatever. But there have also been other things that have made me wonder whether I should return to this job or not.

1. High turnover-It’s a small, year-and-a-half year old marketing firm that’s never employed more than fifteen people—the actual size of the staff has shrunk quite a bit over the past year. In the nine or so months that I was working there, seven people quit. In the four months following that, four more people quit. Some of this was because of personal circumstances or bad culture fit overall, but others just grew tired of the boss’s work-a-holism and his tendency to tell people that their work sucked and spout insults as jokes. (He also has unreasonable standards—the writing team was expected to regularly crank out 600-word blogs post in one hour. On the whole, I was never able to do this.)

2. Q is for Quitting- One of the former employees—let’s call him Q—had been with the company almost since its beginning. He left after I moved away. I took his departure as a major warning sign. Q was always positive and let things roll off of his back when the boss seemed particularly overbearing. He was in low spirits about the boss in the days before I left, so I thought it was a good thing that I was leaving. Several co-workers who are still at the company have also said that I was smart to leave when I did.

3. The boss-In addition to what I’ve stated above, there’s this anecdote, which I admit I don’t have the full facts about. However, given what I know of this person’s strong personality, the alleged story isn’t too hard to believe.

We worked with a very profitable company that accounted for a third of our revenue. The owner of the client company was very good friends with the boss of ours. Out of nowhere, something happened between the two that ruptured the friendship. Those of us lower on the totem pole never learned what it was, although Q, who was the person closest to the boss and his partner, knew and wouldn’t tell us.

One of my coworkers (whose word I trust because she was the most mature, emotionally stable and oldest out of all of us) said that Q told her the following: Apparently, our boss jokingly said something that offended one of the client’s employees. Word eventually made it to the client, and they fired us. This resulted in three of our company’s salaried employees being let go. All the hourly/recent graduate employees, despite our fears when we heard there would be lay-offs, were safe. And so was the company's bottom line, I later realized.

4. The environment-The CEO tries to make the workplace seem really friendly and laid-back and millennial-friendly; but this seems more like a ruse for cheap labor. All of the fresh-off-the-boat college graduates were started as paid interns getting $10/hr. But then they only get $2 raises when their internship ends. I know this because I was their very first intern, and they tried to raise me to $11 after my three-month internship ended. I asked for more and got $12. An intern who also started after me at the same pay also got a $2 raise after our manager prodded our CFO, who was reluctant to give her a raise at all because she was still a student.

Furthermore, any company outings we had during my time there were just emergency morale-boosters when either the team’s morale seemed to be crashing down or some mass employee exodus had just occurred. There’s a cool office space, but that doesn’t seem to matter much when the boss is so intense that you never feel comfortable taking time off, for any reason. It was that kind of environment.

I am aware that all of this may be just a normal fact of life, and in this economy, you have to take what you can get, so I’m trying not to sound too whiny here. I'm fully willing to go back because it’s steady, full-time work. I also wasn't there a full year, so it might look good to employers if I return and show some consistency, instead of finding another job (since moving, I've only temped and interned) for just a year before school. But I honestly don’t know if this is something that occurs often in a business, since I don’t have a lot of work experience. Is this kind of situation pretty common?
posted by dean_deen to Work & Money (8 answers total)
You say a lot about what other people think about working there, but not much about how you liked working there. If there's a guaranteed job for you when you return, I'd give it a shot. It will cut out the stress of applying and interviewing for something else, if nothing else, and if it doesn't work out, you can cut your losses pretty quickly, apply for something else, and leave this return off your resume.
posted by xingcat at 10:32 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked at a place like that; I put most of the toxicity down to the founder-boss, who thought that because he worked a million hours a week on what he (rightfully) viewed as his baby, most everyone else should, and so on. He had also, as far as I knew, never actually worked for anyone else, and so really didn't know anything from experience about managing people, or being someone who is managed.

I've worked a lot of office jobs. They're really not all like that.
posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on January 30, 2014

Just to clarify: I can't say I liked the work that much, but I made myself stick with it, since it was a writing job and that's how I'd like to earn my bread. Also, when I heard that there would be lay-offs? I was really, really hoping I'd be let go.
posted by dean_deen at 10:43 AM on January 30, 2014

I worked at a similarly sized, similarly dysfunctional marketing/design firm as a student intern. By the end of my internship I was the de facto "senior designer" as all designers aside from the creative director had quit/been fired.

There was a fun twist though, the CEO and Creative Director/Founder were husband and wife. Were. There was a hugely acrimonious divorce just after I left and the company exploded and they both moved across the country. I think the CD is now a studio artist, and the CEO similarly changed careers. I can no longer list this internship on my resume because no one returns calls. Doubt they'd even remember me. No one can verify that this was even a real business, and I think that fact screwed me up for a few government jobs with thorough HR departments until I realized what was up.

A few years down the road, with some solid work experience (at a place with a real HR department!) I don't worry about leaving an internship off my resume. Just starting out after school, I didn't have much else going for me.

If you think something like this is even a remote possibility, I would try not to go back. Keep this in your back pocket and if you really can't find another job, go for it.
posted by fontophilic at 11:04 AM on January 30, 2014

If I were in your position, I would view this job as an extremely unattractive insurance plan, and try really hard to get a different job instead. That said, don't burn any bridges, if it can be helped at all.
posted by hootenatty at 11:45 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

This also sounds like the environment at a marketing job I had, too (what is it with small marketing companies?).

I don't know if I can answer this for you, because it's really about what makes you comfortable. I was able to stand the job for about a year and a half. And by that I mean I really didn't like going in every day and I didn't like my boss or the job duties, etc. but I could go home and forget about it. I knew I had to quit when my misery started leaking into my evenings and weekends. I couldn't relax at night because I knew I had to go into work again the next day. I couldn't enjoy my weekends because I couldn't stop thinking about how miserable I was at the job.

So I would ask if you think this is a job you can forget about at 5pm every day? Or do you think the toxic nature of the job will mean that you won't be able to enjoy the rest of your day? Because if it's the latter then I'd highly recommend looking for another job.
posted by mcmile at 11:47 AM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nah, you already know that dysfunction, try to get another job with a different dysfunction. More experience, and it may be a better gig.

If you were hoping to be laid off, then that's your answer fishbulb.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:54 PM on January 30, 2014

This is not atypical for small businesses, especially young AND small businesses, in my experience. Personally, I'd only return to this job as a last resort.

Actually, that's not true. I had "this" job (similar) and I declined to return to it even when it was my only option, and I never once regretted it.
posted by sm1tten at 2:25 PM on January 30, 2014

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