What can I learn from my recent experience of being sacked?
March 6, 2017 3:15 AM   Subscribe

This is the second time in under 3 years that i've been - out of nowhere - let go/sacked/dismissed from an SME despite wholeheartedly putting my everything into the job. No matter how dedicated I was to both jobs - hand on heart - there was once again a dominant and volatile manager whom I had to contend with and whom ultimately sacked me. Is it me? Is there something I should be looking deep within myself at?

I'm an experienced senior administrator and have worked for over 28 different companies - i am now 36. Worry not - 25 of these were short-term temporary contracts whilst I was temping between 1999 and 2001 and 2014-2016. I worked for ten years at a central government department but due to job cuts and limited promotional opportunities, I decided to leave and pursue a business degree, which i completed in 2013. I have developed a plethora of experience across many sectors in a wide variety of organisational settings and cultures, thus, have encountered different management styles and levels of office politics to which i have adapted to.

In 2013 after graduating from University, I secured a job within the commercial arm of an estate agents which had about 100 staff and 6 offices across the region. It was an exciting opportunity to work within a sector I hadn't worked in previously and the job was immensely interesting (disposal and rental of commercial property and land). Excuse the platitude but, I hit the ground running, helped my direct manager to increase the efficiency of the department (head of commercial - whom i worked directly to) and displayed a lot of enthusiasm for my job. Three months in and I was considering undertaking a Masters degree in Building Surveying on a part-time basis. There was just myself and my manager who ran the department and we worked brilliantly together. He had only started his own job a month prior so we were both new to the team and company. I developed a lot of respect for him and was in the process trying to learn from him also. It was genuinely a great professional relationship we had.

There was another woman who worked in the same office who was Business Development Manager for the whole business - she wasn't an office manager. She had worked there for a long time and had a close relationship with the two directors who ran the company (they were also based in my office). It became apparent after a couple of months that she had a lot of influence on who stayed and who got sacked in the company. To describe her, she was overly dominant, annoying (would often just chat for long periods of time about her latest designer product she bought or where she was going on holiday that week), interfering (in terms of how other teams were ran including my own), very outspoken to the point of over-asserting her authority and a huge gossiper. There were few in the office who respected or liked her. For the first number of months i'd have to bite my lip and just 'get on with things', but over time, it began to chip away at my self-esteem (bossing me about even through she wasn't my boss, showing me up in front of other colleagues etc). Anyhow, one Friday mid-afternoon 9 months later, my boss and this woman called me into my boss's office. I was sacked, though she sat there and explained it was nothing personal and they needed someone with more real estate experience - i knew that was bull. I broke down crying and I could see my boss looking incredibly sympathetic and helpless. It wasn't his fault. It has been nearly 3 years since I was let go and my boss has provided excellent references and openly admitted it wasn't a reflection on my work at all and I couldn't have worked harder (i used to work some weekends voluntarily - without pay - in the beginning, to get the department back up and running more efficiently - in addition to getting a new website ready to go live). The girl who was taken on soon after me was no more experienced - less experienced - and I knew it was because this business development manager had a personal grudge against me. Admittedly, after a number of months of getting berated or disrespected for stuff (not related to the work I was doing for my department/boss), i began sticking up for myself a bit more in terms of perhaps being more assertive you could say. Obviously she saw that as an attitude problem.

In October 2016, i had finished an 18 month contract with the largest union in the UK. It was a fantastic contract through an agency and i ran and operated a regional department. I did apply for a permanent job shortly before I left, but I didn't get it unfortunately. To say I was gutted was an understatement and I began to question whether loyalty counted for anything (my competitor for the job was another temp who had been there 5 weeks). I believe she was more experienced in terms of her background, but you can see why i was very disenfranchised. For 3 months after finishing that contract, i was unemployed and it was a soul destroying and upsetting period of time for me running up to Christmas. I went for about 10 interviews. One was for a global engineering firm and did really well to get whittled down to the final 10, then the final 3 from 150 applications.

By the end of the first week of 2017, I became slightly depressed but optimistic somewhat that something would be around the corner. Lo and behold, I got an interview after 45 mins of registering through an agency, for a small property development firm as an administrator. I was interviewed by the director and 2 financial controllers. I could see it was a very relaxed firm to work for and the interviews were local to the area and very down to earth. 15 mins after walking away from the interview I get a call from the director himself offering me the job - i snapped up the offer (understandably, I was desperate at that point). The company and job itself (which transpired to be for an office manager - not an administrator) wasn't ideally what I wanted having worked for larger organisations in the past, but it was a job and i would have been stupid to turn it down.

It was a very small office located outside of the city centre. The people appeared lovely to work for and I was happy. Over the course of a week or two, it transpired that the director had a reputation for being volatile with a crappy attitude. I could see how this was the case, but he was also a very funny guy whom i shared many a banters with. It was a simple case of getting your head down and doing as he said. You could say I was an all-in-one PA/Secretary/Office Manager/Cleaner ( yes - he expected me to empty the office bins, clean the kitchen and tidy up his boardroom table after meetings), but you know, i was grateful to have the job and counted my blessings I had one, so, so what if I had to do the menial jobs. When my boss was in a mood, my god, everyone knew about it. The climate would change from relaxed and funny to downright anxious to be in. It wasn't uncommon to hear him swear profusely, and I mean profusely. He was very demanding and expected everything to be spot on when the occasion demanded. I'm pretty thick skinned for a woman - so the swearing didn't bother me, i've worked in similar environments before. It was his patronizing and bull-in-a-chinashop approach which bothered me. For example, I was trying to explain some figures to him (i was feeling on edge because he was in a mood and constantly in mine and other peoples faces) and he said 'use less of this and more of these and you'll learn something' (referring to my mouth and ears) - because he thinks he was right ALL the time despite he didn't know the system i was using to produce these figures. He put me down a few times and I had to bend to his will because he was my boss and I needed the job. After a month or so, it became apparent his mood and the way he would speak to me was affecting me - my self-esteem and confidence.It also became clear that it might explain why the other two office managers didn't last long (the woman before me was there 2 weeks then went off sick - didn't come back, and the girl before her was there 5 months and resigned). So i decided to toughen up a bit more and defend myself - but with jest (I could see he was a real good laugh at times - sarcastic for sure - so thought he'd appreciate someone who could be thick skinned and not take it personally, you know, have a bit of banter back). For the first several times, it worked and i could see how he respected that. I would say everything in humour so not to come across with an attitude or crossing the line professionally. We kind of bounced of each other and people in the office found it amusing. After 6 weeks, his sarcasm and attitude became a bit too much. For example, he asked if I could clean up some marks on his boardroom table and i respectfully obliged, but he kept on pointing out where the marks where (which I could see the first time). So i brought in the polish and cloth and he said 'no, get a wet cloth instead' and began to again, further point out the marks. In my view he was pushing it - so i said, 'alright, i can see where it is, you've told me several times - you just carry on with what you're doing and leave me to do this'. I think he was in a stressed mood that morning because his tone and attitude was unnecessary. It's the way he tells me to do something - it got worse. I definitely found him INCREDIBLY stressful to be around and i began to avoid him more (normally, i'd go in every hour and ask if he wanted a cup of tea - or he'd tell me he'd want one). It was well known he had OCD, but couple that with a volatile attitude and a constant bull-in-china-shop approach, i began to try and avoid being around him unless absolutely necessary. If he wanted something, I would do it straight away. I got on brilliantly with every other member of staff. Also, I think he begrudged me having a lunch - even though i was contracted to have one. So he'd see me sitting outside and he'd have this look on his face as if to say 'why are you having a lunch when everyone else works through theirs). I was on the lowest pay and my approach was i'll go above and beyond my role, but i'm having a lunch - because it was a stressful job working directly to him, i needed that break.

Once lunch hour, i'm sitting outside and he points at his watch as if to say 'what time is this?', i in jest shout over 'it's not 45 mins yet' (sometimes i wouldn't even have that - i'd have 20 min lunches more often than not). He shakes his head and mutters something under his breath. 5 mins later, i walk back towards the office and he says to me (whilst there is one of the construction guys standing next to him) 'what time do you call this?', i replied '2pm', and he responds, 'what time did you go on your lunch?' I said, '1:15pm - 45 mins lunch. I look at him and think, he doesnt trust me for some reason - or begrudges me having a lunch, so i said 'is there something wrong? I'm not taking the pi55 you know', and he says 'i think you are - i will speak to you later about this'.

That time comes and he just goes off on a tangent to me, saying 'i dont get the support i need.....when i ask you to do something, i get an attitude problem..... most of the things i ask you to do, you do wrong.... well im f****king sick of it' and just goes off on one for 5 solid mins. I'm sitting there getting shouted at thinking what....the... I can't even get a word in edgeways to explain why he thinks i might have an attitude problem. I try to explain that i feel on edge when he speaks to be in a certain way, so i just mirror his behaviour - go on the defense, and he goes 'it's not defense, it's an ATTACK', and im thinking wha?! By that point im no longer thick-skinned and cave in - i start to get upset because it was a complete verbal attack. He's waving his arms about serving criticism after criticism and im just sitting there in shock. Then he says 'the only reason you're still here is because i've had a high turnover of staff - that's all'. He leaves the office and slams the door. I'm sobbing and the girl from finance comes in and consoles me calling him every name under the sun and said he should apologise for the way he spoke to him. She doesn't understand why he's being a d** because i work hard, i'm very thorough in my job and it's a stressful job to work directly to him.

30 mins later he comes back in my office (no one it witnessing this). He says 'have you calmed down now' and i manage to mutter a 'yes'. I try to explain calmly, respectfully and professionally my own thoughts on the matter - but then he jumps in, going off on a rant, and says 'listen, it's not working out, it's clear the job is too stressful for you - all i want is some support and when i ask you to do something you tell me to shut up or go away, well, i've had enough - clear your desk. ' In reference to the 'telling him to shut up or go away' comment - he would often barge in and disturb me in the middle of doing something, and i would say IN JEST, go away will ya im trying to sort some of your outstanding bills out' - he would more often that not find it amusing. Anyway, im sobbing profusely by this point. For weeks and weeks i'd have banter with him and he'd laugh, say things in jest, give him back as much as i'd get (when it got TOO much that is), and it come to this.

This happened last Wednesday.

I hear a new girl started today - he interviewed her the day after I left. My god, the seat was still warm aswell...

I'm holding up ok, im stronger than i used to be and have learnt something from it (to walk away if anyone speak to me like that again).

Can anyone tell me if there is something I am doing wrong in both of these situations? At what point do you grin and bear it, but then think 'this is undignified what you're doing'. I seriously am developing a complex having been sacked twice - from similar managers in terms of personality. I couldn't have possibly anticipated what would happen. Have you been through similar and have you any advice? Should I stay away from small firms from now and how can I avoid this happening again.....

I really appreciate any words of encouragement you may have. Thank you :)
posted by emma33UK to Work & Money (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Please don't take this as a personal attack, but judging from the length of this post, you may need to concentrate on editing your work to its most essential bullet points. If I sent an email at my job as long as this post, it would be immediately discarded unread. Start your emails with the point you're making - no more than a sentence or two, include optional background, and leave it at that. There is no topic that can't be summarized in a paragraph.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:25 AM on March 6, 2017 [21 favorites]

From my point of view, all my personal opinion:

1. Bosses, especially direct reports, are not the best people to experiment with humorous sarcasm or jokey behavior. This goes double for people who seem a bit erratic. Today's gentle "LOL I'm doing your accounting, go away" that they actually laugh back at can turn into a simmering resentment that gets you sacked the next time they have a bad day. Just be polite and professional to bosses. Avoid sarcasm and irony if you must joke around.

2. In situation 2 specifically, the "high turnover" line tells me everything I need to know about that work environment, but I still think you made some tactical errors. Explaining that you get defensive because you are mirroring their aggression towards you while you are being inappropriately shouted at was like trying to bail out the Titanic with a teacup. Getting screamed at is not ok and you should have removed yourself from the situation until your manager could calm down. Personally, the moment a manager pointed at my mouth and ears while criticizing my work I would have been looking for new opportunities.

In summary, re-read your post and think about how important it is to say or do things "in jest" with fighty people who make you uncomfortable. This is probably a coping mechanism of some kind and it may be worth going to therapy to do some work around this.
posted by xyzzy at 4:30 AM on March 6, 2017 [11 favorites]

1. Working sucks

2. Read this, "How to manage your boss"

I have seen the most disruptive people that nearly tanked companies getting excellent reviews. How? They succeeded in the only measurement that counts: Making their boss happy.

3. "Is it me?" Different personal traits may be more advantages/disadvantages in different times, professions or positions. Maybe you would be an excellent entrepreneur, who knows.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:46 AM on March 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

These jobs seem very stressful and I have no doubt that your former boss and the Business Development Manager mistreated you and acted inappropriately.

Based on my own experiencing working and managing people, there are a few things that stand out to me about your question:

- When I first started working, I thought that the bulk of the work was doing the actual job as described in the job description and doing it well. I learned that the actual hard work for me was learning how to get along (or stay off the radar) of people who used work as an opportunity to be sociable and chit-chat. I'm thinking of the Business Development Manager. The best way to get along is to be unfailing polite, cheerful, and have a set time limit (in your head) for conversations.

- You say "I began to question whether loyalty counted for anything." In my experience, it doesn't. Companies like to talk about being a family or valuing loyalty, but this is a trick to get one-sided devotion from employees. The company does not return the loyalty. This is a good perspective to keep in mind because I found that prior to realizing this, I worked very hard (like you sometimes without pay) for companies and that went things went wrong I was left with feelings of resentment and betrayal. Those feelings aren't helpful and are directly related to the expectation that the company will be loyal to you.

- To echo xyzzy, it is never a good idea to mirror a boss' bad behavior back to them. Many bosses will act as if you are friends/on equal footing, but this is an immature management style and they will eventually have to pull back from it which is painful for everyone involved. You are not on equal footing. A fellow manager once told me that when she gives feedback to her employees, the only appropriate response is "Thank you for the feedback. I will take that into consideration." (Not sure I agree with her, but this is how some managers feel.) If your boss is screaming at you or you truly feel you can provide an explanation, do not do it right then in the moment. Wait until your next meeting and then begin by saying that you have been reflecting on their feedback. You can use the STAR-AR model to state what the Sitation was, what the Task was, what Action you took, and what was the Result. Then present the Alternative-Action you will take in the future & the expected Result.
posted by CMcG at 4:49 AM on March 6, 2017 [15 favorites]

Echoing CMcG, for some (probably most) managers, acknowledging and thanking them for their feedback is the only legitimate response - anything else well put you on the express lane to being regarded as "not a team player". Both explanations and requests for clarification can be tricky with these types of managers. Neither can happen in the moment.

You may also not be able to provide an explanation later once everyone's calmed down - there is always a chance that you may be accused of "dredging up the past". With a more reasonable manager you might be able to debrief earlier events, but do assume that they won't appreciate your desire to do so.
posted by blerghamot at 5:00 AM on March 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you need to learn to suck it up, or start looking for a new job when you find out your boss is an asshole. Giving as good as you get is never a good idea. Even if it seems sometimes to be OK - never give back what you get to a volatile boss because as you've found out, one minute its all laughs and smiles and the next minute you're fired.

Don't stick up for yourself and demand to be treated with respect, that might work with someone who is your equal but this person is your boss, this isn't TV land where you demand respect and the asshole boss sees the error of their ways or says "I was waiting for you to say that" and then everything is lovely. If your boss treats you like crap, look for a new job and until you get one, suck it up - keep your head down, do as your told and never answer back.

You may have needed that lunch break, you may have been legally entitled to that lunch break (and probably more than 45minutes), your contract may have said you get a lunch break but if no-one else in the office is taking a lunch break and your boss is starting to comment on it, you say sorry sir and don't do it again.

You do sound like you were giving quite a bit of attitude so to a certain extent, yes, its you, if you're not in a position to find a new job then you need to learn how to put up with a lot of crap from shitty bosses. There are small companies with good bosses and big companies with crap bosses, its not unique to small companies.
posted by missmagenta at 5:33 AM on March 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

The first job was poorly managed. Sounds like you did great, but they didn't want someone to do great - they wanted someone to fall in line and not make big changes. Their loss. The second job was a bad fit for you. You were overqualified, desperate, and resentful from Day One. Probably your mistake to take it (although I totally sympathize with your reasons for doing so, you should NOT have stopped job hunting once you had secured that position). So back to the drawing board. Be honest with yourself about your qualifications, passions, and deal-breakers for future jobs, and keep looking.

And for the future: No more jesting... at least not until you are doing so from a place of strength and trust with your fellow banter-er. It's very dangerous to "jest" with a boss, especially if that person is volatile and you are new, un-established, or on shaky ground. If your boss comes to you with a task that is related to your job while you're doing receipts, say "Yep, I'll do that next." If you're at lunch and your boss thinks you're slacking, say "I didn't get to leave for lunch until 1:15. I'm wrapping up and I'll be back in the office in a moment." There absolutely is a place for humor and teasing and witty repartee in the workplace, but is has to be built on a foundation of mutual respect and shared understanding.
posted by nkknkk at 5:59 AM on March 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

please, no crying in view of anyone at work, ever. if you need to cry, do it in the privacy of your vehicle or a bathroom stall.

no "joking" sarcastically with your boss or any other superior. just be polite, be professional, be generally pleasant. do not ever reflect anyone's aggression back onto them, whether as a joke or as an attempt to show them how unkind they are being; trust me, it will not show them anything, they are past the point of empathizing with you, if you are being shouted at. in most workplaces, you cannot even joke sarcastically with coworkers on your same level, never mind a direct supervisor, unless you are very familiar with the coworker and have reason to think they will not take it the wrong way or lose their temper if you joke when they are in a terrible mood for whatever reason.

adopting a bland, generally pleasant and polite but unemotional attitude at work consistently is good. it is especially handy when people lose their tempers. if no one ever sees you lose your temper at work and another staff member is shouting at you, you have the high ground, and you can retain it by simply saying something like, "it's not appropriate for you to shout at me. i'd like to discuss your concerns and hear your feedback, but i can only do so when you've calmed down." this emphasizes how reasonable you are and how unreasonable the other person is. if it's your direct supervisor yelling at you, a better response is, "thank you for your feedback, and i will keep it in mind in the future." and that's it. don't get into a fight, don't try to get even. when you observe this person is screaming at you over minor things or otherwise being unreasonable, then you know it's time to get out of the toxic environment; so keep your head down and take it and look for another job asap.

loyalty doesn't mean anything, even in a small business. as someone said above, the idea of loyalty is to try to make employees have a one sided devotion to the company. stop becoming emotionally attached to your work or your job title. leadership makes choices that save them money and serve their most influential members at an interpersonal level (such as the woman at the real estate firm who you observed had influence over human resources decisions). if someone doesn't get along with you, that you don't fit the culture, or the business decides they do not want you there for a financial or logistical reason - don't take it personally. it is not a reflection of your value as a person, of your intelligence, or of your competence re: your actual job duties. not everyone will like you, and that's ok. sometimes, if you don't fit in socially at a place, they will look for a way to get rid of you, but that doesn't mean you're an unlikeable or incompetent person.

if you interview anywhere in the future and you hear or observe that "we have had a lot of staff turnover" ask them why they think that is and pay close attention to the response. generally, working somewhere that has a lot of staff turnover is a bad idea, because that's caused by low pay, a toxic work environment (as was your last one) or some kind of overall organizational incompetence; you will only be stressed out by if you start working there.

when i read this: "I was an all-in-one PA/Secretary/Office Manager/Cleaner ( yes - he expected me to empty the office bins, clean the kitchen and tidy up his boardroom table after meetings)" i immediately thought that a) you shouldn't have to put up with that unless cleaning was in your job description and b) next time someone is asking you to do scutwork outside your job description because you're a woman working in administrative role, that's when you clarify your responsibilities and what your priorities should be, in writing, with whomever you report to. oh, they want you to clean the boardroom after every meeting? great, email your boss and ask how high of a priority he would like that to be, in light of the fact that you are also responsible for responding to correspondence and performing accounting tasks or whatever else. and since you'd like to be as efficient as possible, you need to know which of your duties are most important so you can make those your highest priority.
posted by zdravo at 6:08 AM on March 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of the previous feedback is probably helpful. But also: the jobs you've lost were in the property sector, which (assuming you're in England here) is, not to put too fine a point on it, full of glad-handing backstabbers. It's not the sector for you.
posted by ambrosen at 7:16 AM on March 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

Agree with those saying to curb the joking around with superiors. There's a fine line between innocuous office joking and "That new person is acting waaaaay too familiar with the boss." People generally don't like that. Those relationships take years to build, if they even happen at all. Those relationships are earned. New people at jobs are generally expected to do as they are told.

For example, he asked if I could clean up some marks on his boardroom table and i respectfully obliged, but he kept on pointing out where the marks where (which I could see the first time). So i brought in the polish and cloth and he said 'no, get a wet cloth instead' and began to again, further point out the marks. In my view he was pushing it - so i said, 'alright, i can see where it is, you've told me several times - you just carry on with what you're doing and leave me to do this'.

So you basically told your boss "I know how to do this already and I'm doing it my way. Go away." Listen, it's clear from the post that this guy is probably a total and complete mega asshole, but when your boss tells you to do something a certain way, you do it their way (barring anything totally crazy or illegal of course). Even if you think their way is stupid. Even if your way is the greatest way that ever was. Their way. Always their way.

In reference to the 'telling him to shut up or go away' comment - he would often barge in and disturb me in the middle of doing something, and i would say IN JEST, go away will ya im trying to sort some of your outstanding bills out' - he would more often that not find it amusing.

Oof. As someone who manages employees, I'd find this annoying too. Quadruple the annoyance if the person was a new hire. I might find it amusing the first time, assuming the person followed up with "Just kidding! Now, what do you need?"

So basically, do what you're told, keep your head down, and be friendly and professional. And learn to take constructive criticism without excuses. The latter was the hardest for me to learn personally, but also the most beneficial professionally.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:44 AM on March 6, 2017

Oh, OP, I have a lot of empathy for you. Even if someone doesn't tie her self-worth to her job that closely, being fired is an ego-crushing experience; when it happens more than once, it makes you question EVERYTHING. I'm an experienced admin, too, and while I haven't experienced the exact same treatment as you, I've certainly felt disrespected, underappreciated, unfairly criticized, and poorly treated. Letting that seemingly roll of your back and focus on getting your job done with a pleasant demeanor really is the toughest part of being an admin. As people have mentioned above:

1. Companies are not loyal, though the expectation is that employees will be. It sucks, but it's true. The sooner you can embrace an "it's just business" mentality, the easier it will be to make choices in your best interest. That doesn't mean you need to abandon your professional ethics surrounding committment and loyalty, but when a job situation isn't working for you, you have every right to go out and find one that does. When the roles are reversed, companies act in their best interest with very little regard for how it will affect you. Some people may feel bad and try to help you out, but it won't change the outcome.

2. I think the big lesson to learn from this is that you have to tread carefully with superiors and have a more deferential, tolerant approach to them. It may seem unfair and not feel great, but every company has a hierarchy and you have to understand your place in it. That doesn't mean you're incorrectly assessing the situation/person or that you're wrong to feel the way you do, but, when in the workplace, you just have to swallow it with a smile and then vent to someone later who is not connected to your work. People can respond negatively to a look on your face that has nothing to do with them, so mirroring aggressive/defensive behavior, snapping at someone, or joking around to diffuse a situation can and will backfire.

I'm sorry because your last boss seems like a total asshole who is quite abusive to his employees, but that doesn't mean a thing if he is delivering what the company wants. Higher-ups are coddled and catered to, so if a supervisor criticizes you or blows up at you, you are expected to grin and bear it until you find a new gig. For example, I think a better way to handle the Business Development Manager's treatment of you would have been to approach your boss and say, "When Business Development Manager said x, I was unsure of how to apply that to my future work. How can I integrate her feedback better?" That may or may not have changed anything, but standing up for yourself to a superior's face is not the winning move in business environments. Instead, you have to treat feedback (in whatever form you receive it) as valuable and something you should use to help you improve your performance. It's unfair, it's lousy, but the better move is to take it in stride, vent to a (non-work) friend after hours, and begin looking for a better fit.

3. When you feel disrespected or treated poorly, grinning and bearing it is just the worst, but it is also necessary and, unfortunately, a pretty common professional dynamic. It's a skill, really, and the way to maintain your dignity is to look for a new gig that suits you better. Unless somebody is doing something illegal, going along to get along is pretty much expected. You can loathe someone with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, but you can't let them know, or even suspect, it.

It sounds like you are a highly skilled employee with a wealth of experience that would be an asset to any company, but you are struggling with the power dynamic between supervisor/boss and underling. That's totally understandable and human, but, until you find your dream boss, you have to let that go while at work. In the meantime, if you end up in a similar situation, trying to improve the dynamic means being a positive, calm, and accepting person of all "feedback," even when you know your boss is wrong. You take back the power by raging at home, doing something that makes you feel valued in other ways, and looking for a new job. Best of luck to you!
posted by katemcd at 9:52 AM on March 6, 2017 [7 favorites]

There are a couple of things here you need to work on, and yes they are mostly "deep in yourself" issues:

- Define some boundaries and defend them from the start. You keep writing the same story over and over again: I took a job, it wasn't the job they said it was, I scrambled like a motherfucker to please whoever pointed their serious personality problems at me, so they figured out they could abuse me for fun until I started to lose it/stand up for myself, they fired me and didn't even take time to grieve because now I've mistaken the job for an ex-boyfriend. You should have left or protested at each of those points, but because you wait until things are completely out of control it's too late to assert any boundaries.

-- Sub-caution to above: though work is work and not a relationship, when a coworker is an abusive fuckhead you need to put your guard up and start on your exit plan, not scramble furiously to make him like you and pat yourself on the back that that an abusive fuckhead shared a joke with you once. That's not a win.

I know therapy is harder to get into in the UK, where I think you are, but you should at least be able to find a codependency workbook you can start with. That's the behavior you're describing here, over and over again. You are desperately trying to people-please to your own detriment.

- It's not actually true that you can overcome anything if you just try hard enough. If the odds are stacked against you, like when the company's petty dictator doesn't like you or you've been set up for failure as part of someone else's politics play, it doesn't matter how hard you try. Stop being surprised and helpless when that doesn't work.

- Once you let someone abuse you once without complaint or protest, the floodgates are open and you cannot close them again. Picking on you for non-job-related things or invented problems is abuse, lying to you about the terms of the job is abuse, raising their voice is abuse.

And you come off as a little naive, which people will take advantage of. Smile and be kind, but don't automatically assume all people are telling you the truth. Be privately skeptical. And understand that a man being married and having a family doesn't neuter men - and I'm not talking about attraction or romance. There are men in the world who feel entitled to the attention and submission of women and will take revenge on women who don't give them their due, whether that due is jumping to do their every bidding or having sex with them if the man thinks they should. It doesn't matter whether you're attracted or interested, this isn't about mutuality.

- Stop making jokes and placing any sort of value on joking in the workplace. I realize this is another codependency coping method, usually one that starts in childhood, but NO JOKING. No sarcasm, no 'get out of here', no banter, no double-entendre (you don't mention it, but I'm going to guess), pretend you don't get it when people make dirty/sexist/racist/inappropriate jokes in front of you. Every place I've ever worked that liked to have a laugh was always having it at someone's expense eventually. The failure mode of clever is asshole, so every joke you make that doesn't land is making someone angry; it's better to aim no higher than a benign pun now and then and just be considered humorless.

- It's not stupid to turn down a job that's raising red flags, unless you are absolutely desperate and absolutely already looking for the better job you'll take as soon as you get it.

- To that end, you're old enough that you should be bringing some of your life lessons into play during job interviews, and really a good employer is looking for you to ask them. Stop being impressed by superficial things and mistaking a casual manner or non-professionalism for "down to earth". Ask specifically about the boundaries of the job you're interviewing for, ask what is outside of that scope, come straight out and ask who does the cleaning. Ask about the department structure, the reporting structure. ASK ABOUT TURNOVER. They may lie, but watch *how* they answer as much as the words they say.

When you interview with a company, you are also interviewing them back. It's hard when you need a job and feel like you need to take anything, but you might as well just tell them that then, if you're not going to try to choose a job that suits you. "I'll put up with whatever shit you want, just give me a job for a few months." You'll get what you ask for.

In your shoes, I'd be - very politely but seriously - saying, "I'm finding, over the last few positions I've had, that I'm not well-suited to internally volatile environments. I shine at my work in a more formally-organized department structure without a lot of departmental conflict. *shrug* I know some people thrive on it, but I'm terrible at that game."

The time you spend at these low-quality jobs is keeping you out of higher-quality jobs.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:09 AM on March 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

Thank you so much for all of your responses - i very much appreciate the time you have taken to respond. I have taken on board all feedback and understand from now on that - god forbid if this scenario happens again - I should grin and bear it but look for another job asap. It was definitely an invaluable lesson learnt - not to back chat to my superior even if I think i haven't overstepped the mark. So, just look for another job as soon as the situation becomes untenable. As opposed to trying to being more assertive or attempting to defend my dignity (which is how I saw it).

Someone mentioned about not crying - but when someone is mouthing off at you with a temper, it's hard not to. It's either cry, get angry or take it on the chin - yet i think it was the shock that made me upset (and weeks of being thick-skinned and sucking it up that eventually broke me, so to speak). I know it's not ideal and what I should do next time - if there is to be one - is remain ambivalent, don't say anything and then start looking for a job as soon as I get the opportunity. I'd never had a superior shout/be aggressive to me like that before, so yes, it was shock which got me upset (plus the fact he just sacked me). It is a dog eat dog world out there clearly, yet saying that, most companies i've worked for have been absolutely fine, so im guessing i was unlucky - again.

Job cleaning wasn't in my job description - yet he expected it. One particular occasion, i was asked to go and cover as a waitress for a couple of hours in the restaurant part of the business (it was a golf course he owned/i worked at, which he was redeveloping), and i got down to the restaurant, worked my rear off and proved I could do anything that was necessary, so believe me, i did many a things that weren't in my job description lol. But you know, I got with it, like people advised me to and never complained, but yes, his negativity/attitude/bull-in-a-china-shop approach got the better of me in the end. I entirely agree with those who said i should have started looking for another job as soon as it become untenable - or, as someone pointed out - i should have continued my job search when i got the job because it wasn't what i wanted in the first place. That was my first mistake - completely agree.

Many thanks once again to all. Onwards and upwards!

Geckoweist - took your feedback on. I overindulged in my vocabulary simply to thoroughly explain the situation and background. Not taken personally at all.
posted by emma33UK at 10:18 AM on March 6, 2017

Re: crying at work--don't give it a thought unless it's happening every time you receive a correction/criticism. Many of us have cried at work before (I certainly have) over major criticism/disciplinary action, and anything at the level of the verbal abuse you received certainly qualifies. Hang in there--I hope things get better for you soon.
posted by epj at 6:55 PM on March 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

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