In need of career advice
May 9, 2014 6:18 PM   Subscribe

I feel like work is papering the file to fire me. At the same time, I feel hopelessly stuck on what I want to do career-wise. Snowflakes inside.

Last week I had an unscheduled meeting with my boss and HR contact. The purpose of the meeting was to present me with a formal warning. This warning delineated deficiencies in my work such as poor attention to detail, inadequate responsiveness, and so forth.

Receiving this warning took me by surprise but I maintained my professionalism during the meeting. They asked that I take the memo back to my desk and review it, and after which that I sign it to acknowledge receipt and understanding. I have not yet signed the document, nor has anyone asked.

Most but not all of the examples cited in the memo were from one specific individual. In my opinion most of the items in the memo were blown completely out of proportion. My perception is that management is trying to paper my file so that they can let me go without risk of litigation.

Late last year I went out on leave for anxiety and depression triggered by work stress. I was in an outpatient program and was out of the office for three months. The woman who was responsible for most of the items in the memo is my biggest stressor at work and was a primary factor in my taking leave.

I currently work in finance and I can't stand it. The problem is that I have no idea what to do instead. I don't have anything that I want to do instead. I love computers and technology. Right now I'm learning Haskell. But I don't think that I want to be a programmer. I just don't see a role for myself anywhere. In fact, I have probably more interests than anyone else that I know. But again, I can't see a job for myself in any of them.

I saw a career counselor during the period before I went on leave and found the experience to be a very poor one that did nothing to resolve my feeling of being stuck.

I know these last two paragraphs sound symptomatic of depression, but I can honestly say that I am not in a depressive episode. Maybe call it dysthymia. Regardless, I have felt this way since I graduated college 7 years ago.

I just feel so hopelessly stuck. I want to quit but I have no idea what jobs I would apply to instead. Job hunting is such a difficult task that without a firm goal I don't see how I could do it successfully. Perversely, the best scenario, as I see it, might be if work fires me and I collect unemployment. Then I would be free to job hunt and not feel as pressured financially.

Please help, hive mind.
posted by prunes to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL, IANYL, But I once had to lay a paper trail to fire someone. She was running a side business from her desk (answering calls for her husband's dental business). Our corrective action plan for her was "don't take calls for other businesses while at work". She resigned instead of us getting to the end of the plan.

In some US states (perhaps all states) being fired for cause means you are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Make sure you know your local laws on this matter.

I would also ask the manager/HR person for a more concrete "corrective action plan" which identified actual things they wanted you to do, that can be measured, so that you can make your counter-case that you were meeting their ends and that they fired you unreasonably.

They should be able to give you detailed steps to take to improve, that can be measured and that they can meet with you again in a few weeks to assess, etc. If they're not willing to do that, then maybe they are looking for a paper trail.

If you happen to be in a "right-to-work" state that may not matter at all, as long as they don't do anything that suggests that they fired you for an illegal reason.

As for your job prospects, there are lots of technology jobs that aren't programmer jobs, some of them quite specialized. Some of the most interesting might involve your expertise in finance, such as being a tech support or QA analyst or business analyst for a company that writes finance software.

You might have to move to take such a job, but that might help make it a clean sweep as well.

Good luck! Sometimes getting knocked on your butt is useful; It teaches you to get back up.
posted by Mad_Carew at 6:43 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are feeling trapped, stressed and under attack at work and can't get your head clear to figure out what else to do, I suggest you look for and apply to the same job you hold now in other organisations. Your future will seem less strangling if you get out of this office and away from your adversarial colleague.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:51 PM on May 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Yeah, you really shouldn't count on unemployment because you only get that when you're out of work for reasons that aren't your fault, such as a layoff. And unemployment gives you very little money, it is NOT a way to float yourself along for months while you search your soul. And if/when you get canned, you'll apply for literally every job you even vaguely qualify for, including fast food and barista, because once you're unemployed you're out of time to find out what you REALLY want out of life--you need to get employed as soon as you can pull it off without being picky about it.

Sorry for being harsh, but you sound pretty fuzzy and vague and unmotivated about things and you're kind of in a situation where that's not a good mental state to be in. I get that this other woman is ruining your job for you, but you're going to need to start mentally kicking in right about now. You need to start "shaping up" at work even if it's doomed, and you need to do any kind of job hunting you can get.

As for career counseling: in my experience, it's not helpful if you are vague and unclear about what you want--they can't really help you in that regard, they're really only good if you go in with a goal that they are suited to helping you with. Unfortunately, I think you may need to do some "guess and check" by applying for a bunch of jobs and seeing what you end up liking/falling into.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:21 PM on May 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

IANAL nor a HR person, but in most states/instances, you can still collect unemployment if you're fired. You have to do some pretty bad things to not be able to collect unemployment: "What qualifies as misconduct that will disqualify an employee from receiving unemployment benefits? Generally speaking, an employee engages in misconduct by willfully doing something that substantially injures the company's interests. For example, revealing trade secrets or sexually harassing coworkers is typically the type of misconduct that renders the employee ineligible to collect unemployment benefits.".

I would definitely go all-out to find another job, but don't assume you won't be able to get unemployment.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:30 PM on May 9, 2014

Response by poster: I don't want to lose track of more important issues but seeing as how my unemployment insurance remark was commented on three times now, I might as well try to nip this in the bud. I obviously don't want to be dependent upon receiving unemployment. Additionally, I do believe that I would be eligible under New York state law, based upon my read of the rules on NY's Dept of Labor website. Let's please leave the unemployment insurance discussion at that.
posted by prunes at 8:31 PM on May 9, 2014

Something to consider is this Washington Post article about companies being less likely to hire the unemployed.

Everything I've read says the best time to find a new job is while you are still employed. I don't know if it's something as subtle as unemployed applicants coming off as slightly desperate or questions in the hiring manager's mind about how the applicant came to be unemployed or something else entirely. And I can't believe being unemployed is going to help your mental state.

Regarding the formal warning, try to put aside the other employee and your perceptions of the whys. Unless you are content with getting fired, which will also not better your odds of finding a new job, try to look at the issues objectively and then go back to your manager with your plan to improve. Keep your job for as long as you can and leave on your own terms when you have a nice shiny new job.

And, I'm not trying to sound harsh, but if one of their concerns is "inadequate responsiveness", sitting on that warning for a week is not going to help your case. You say that when they met with you, they asked you to read and sign it. I'm not sure why in the next sentence you say "nor has anyone asked".

Update your resume, polish your interviewing skills, try a different counselor. You are smart and educated. You can totally get yourself into a better situation. Good luck to you.
posted by Beti at 8:49 PM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with those suggesting that for now, you should try to move into exactly the job you're doing in a healthier company (maybe a smaller one?). Because a career change takes a fair amount of energy and focus, much more than that required for a regular job hunt for a title you can handily sell.

With that said, I thought I remembered your name and question, and I checked, and I did. In the course of that, I also noticed that you've been asking about coding and tech and CS stuff since 2012. It doesn't sound to me that you're as confused as you think you are. Perhaps there are steps you could take towards figuring out the exact path that makes sense, in the medium term, in a more considered way. You could give yourself a year to plan it out, and continue to work in your current field (elsewhere!) in the meantime.

It also sounds like you've been bullied pretty badly. I don't know if litigation would make any sense, but I do hope a lawyer replies to your question.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:01 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your impulse is to avoid dealing with work problems as much as possible. That is understandable when you are miserable at work, but avoidance keeps you stuck. Avoidance asks "how can I make this all go away?" And there are short-term answers: ignore the one specific person demanding attention to detail and responsiveness; let the important paper sit on your desk unsigned for a week; try to identify a dream field you can imagine really wanting a job in before taking any steps to apply for any other jobs. But eventually you realize that after all the time and effort ignoring and avoiding and dreaming, you're still in the same place with the same problems.

The key is to switch from avoidance mode into problem-solving mode and task-completing mode. It's harder than it sounds because avoidance gives you an immediate hit of relief from dealing with a painful or annoying reality, so your brain comes up with all sorts of ways to keep you in avoidance mode because it feels much better than dealing with your reality right now.

Problem-solve your work situation: can you transfer somewhere that you wouldn't have to work with the specific person? Can you have another person act as a buffer between you, or use email for your communications so that there is a record of how responsive you have been? Can you ask for specific guidelines on what standards of detail or responsiveness are expected? Even if these ideas get shot down, try to stay in problem-solving mode, brainstorming more and more possible solutions until something sticks.

After you've decided on a problem-solving approach, focus on completing task after task toward solving the problem. For example, ask for the transfer, sign and return the document, keep doing work up to the agreed-on standard, send in a resume and cover letter. A to-do list helps. But the skill of noticing when you're avoiding reality, and bringing your mind back to the task at hand is a really huge thing that a lot of people struggle with. Meditation helps.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:23 AM on May 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I understand that you're not sure what you want to do next but can you try to identify companies for whom you want to work? Come up with some names and look at their websites to see if they're hiring. If you need a place to start, look at lists of best companies to work for.
posted by kat518 at 6:57 PM on May 10, 2014

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