Short term survival tips for a completely effed up workplace?
July 22, 2017 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I took a job I shouldn't have and now I'm so completely demoralized I am having a hard time getting it together to even start a new job search. Any tips?

In my defense, the GlassDoor reviews (currently five reviews, every one the lowest possible rating) didn't start getting posted until after I took the position, and the people in the company whose counsel I sought weren't straight with me. It's only been a few months, but instead of just being angry and disgusted with the belittling and gaslighting and abusive behaviors that go on here, I'm now just completely wrung out. I walked into this job confident and probably hireable in many many places. Now I feel so just emotionally exhausted that on the one hand I don't have the energy to sell myself and on the other hand I don't have the confidence to believe there's something to sell.

For a while I was like, okay, they're assholes, but I know I'm doing a great job so it's just a matter of weathering the personalities. Now they've started the business where everything I do is wrong. If I run something by the CEO as a matter of professionalism or politeness, I'm wrong. If I keep him posted on projects on which I'm working, I still get accused of leaving him out of the loop. If I am "empowered" by him to "own" a project and so update him only in writing on a periodic basis, I'm not communicative enough.

Now it looks like the whisper campaign has started. There is negative shit said about everyone behind their backs but for some reason I thought that since I was punching so much higher than my weight they wouldn't be doing it to me. Now I see all the indicators that he's badmouthing me when I'm not around. I mean, obviously I have to get out, but the recruiter who placed me here can't take me on so soon because it's unethical and when I look at job postings from other recruiters, I just want to put my head down and cry.

I need strategies that will get me through the day and will help me to stop self-sabotaging in personal matters, like I've started eating all wrong and I'm not exercising partly because there's no time (I think I'll walk to the office but the minute I get out of the door I think, damn, I'd better take the bus and just get the hell in there), I'm sleeping horribly, I'm just doing everything wrong. I'm sticking with my volunteer work because it provides structure but there are some issues with the volunteer organization that make me think (not unreasonably, this isn't projection -- I'm not alone in thinking this) that the organization may be in a shambles and may end up closing soon and suddenly, and I would like to help clean it up but I can barely keep it together to clean my apartment, which I also don't do enough and so that's one more thing that makes me disgusted with myself.

I don't have time or energy to hang out with friends. I want to, but I keep having these panic attacks and I'm getting less and less inclined to try to socialize with anyone. People who are nice and understanding are the hardest to be with because then I just fall apart.

I need to pull it together here and remember that I'm smart and capable. I believe in counseling, but the last therapist I had here in SF was nice rather than effective, and now I can't really get away from the office for therapy. I let mgmt. know that I was going to leave early one day a couple of weeks back (I didn't tell them but I was planning to have an informal chat with someone about some of these issues), and said, either this day or that day, I don't care, you choose, just let me know. The CEO didn't respond to my email but within hours had scheduled something for one of the days so I planned to leave early the other day, and then the day before my planned early departure he manufactured a fire drill that took a full 48 hours to put to bed.

Friday I just was so demoralized by something work-related that had happened Thursday night that I got in about 2 hours later than usual and left about 5 hours early so maybe I could just walk out without explanation regularly but that seems like it creates more problems than it solves.

I mean, right now, I'm in a space where I'm like, whatever, they obviously hate me so it doesn't even matter if I do a good job at anything, but I still have this personal pride that I take that doesn't really allow me to deliberately fuck up. But the COO started picking at me about something Friday morning after I got in and I said, oh yeah, you know, I've never done that right I guess so why don't you move that project to the lead counsel. (Lead counsel btw is operating like a mid level associate and I am supervising him in most things including vetting any email he sends to the CEO and the team, and trying to teach him how to provide information in a way that is understandable. He earns almost twice what I do and he can't do most of what I do, including documenting corporate transactions. He has no experience with corporate organization or funding rounds.) The COO assigned the project to the Finance Director instead. I mean fuck them if their choice is (a) to give me shit about something I'm doing just fine or (b) to give the project to someone who earns double my pay?

I would just walk out as soon as I get my next paycheck but I don't know if I can find a job in 30 days and that's the lead time I have. 30 days no more. I'm afraid I would just sit at home and sleep until the money runs out. Help? How do I get off this horrible cycle?
posted by janey47 to Work & Money (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You're listing out symptoms of depression and anxiety. Can you get evaluated by a medical doctor and take leave on short term disability? This will buy you time.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:05 AM on July 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Would the recruiter take you on if you got fired? Are their potential options for short-term consultant work until you land the next gig? Can you spend tomorrow e-mailing every other recruiter you know and apply to every job possible?

This is definitely a get out situation - do what you have to. This may also make you feel better at work, knowing you are on your way out.
posted by Toddles at 11:11 AM on July 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

You're on the right path not taking their shit. There is one fundamental truth about a dysfunctional workplace- if you are competent and strong you can be running it in a month. So basically I would stop trying to make them happy and adopt the attitude that they better get their shit together. Be your usual happy and professional self but don't be afraid to show your exasperation and contempt for people's incompetence and poor social skills: you are better than this place and everyone should know it. At best they'll shape up at worst they'll avoid you. I have a policy of always calling incompetence out and following it up as far as I need to go. It is AMAZING how little incompetence I encounter professionally anymore. Plus it'll make you feel better. Being in a shitty workplace for a while sucks but is doable. Being in a shitty situation and feeling like you have to pretend it's all roses or you can't change anything is soul destroying. You don't have to feel that way.

Don't work a minute more than you're supposed to, go home and enjoy life and yep, find another job asap. Network, network. Call our old boss and see what they have- literally every employee I've lost in the past 10 years has done this at one point or another and I'm happy to talk to them and cheer them up or connect them with opportunities because I care about my people even after they move on. It's incredibly common, it doesn't mean you are a failure to go back to an old organization that was a better fit or to admit that the new job is a hellhole. It literally happens to everyone at some point.
posted by fshgrl at 11:16 AM on July 22, 2017 [12 favorites]

Oh no, I'm so sorry you're in this awful workplace situation! I remember your previous question about the coworker who disappeared--it's been a stressful time for you.

Nthing what everyone else said about getting out of there, but until then, whenever you really need to take a day off I'd just call in sick without warning. I know you have your professional pride, but you've seen your CEO is the type who will mess with you if you ask for the time off ahead of time, like a normal responsible employee. He is not a normal boss so you can't really play by the rules if he makes them up as he goes along.

Good luck. I hope you find another job soon! And definitely try to remember, this is them, not you.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:38 AM on July 22, 2017

> For a while I was like, okay, they're assholes, but I know I'm doing a great job so it's just a matter of weathering the
> personalities. Now they've started the business where everything I do is wrong.

My sympathies in getting recruited to a bad place - and not being alerted to it beforehand. Now that you are here, you are here, and in an 'at-will' state (you mentioned SF) they can fire you on the spot - and of course you can leave just like that.

In the meantime these personalities will be doing what they do. They are not good people, and your good work will stand by itself; often not good people will take credit for the good work done by others, that's what not good people do. And badmouthing others is also par for the course.

A few strategies to get you through this temporary patch (and they are always temporary) would be:
- Get your exercise. Heck if you have to get up an hour earlier than you normally do, just do it. Connected to...
- Eat well. Take care of #1, which is yourself. Start acting like you do give a d*mn about your career and your future, because no one else will.
- Get some social support. Call an old friend. Make a new friend. Go join that club or meetup or other activity-based thing you've always wanted to 'get around to doing' but never did.
- As mentioned before don't work a minute more than you are supposed to. Show up on time, leave on time, don't worry about the fire drills, and purposely be Mr/Ms Invisible who gets stuff done. No complaining aloud, fine to fill up a journal with pages and pages but nothing said or written to others passive-aggressively.
- Develop your own talent stack. Take an online course, join a specific learning circle/group, schedule time for intensive, focused study, related to a growth goal for your future. You've got to put in the 10,000 hours to be an expert at something, put that guided practice time in now. Your future self will thank you.

Other things you may want to consider would be to build your network where you are - every place has their 'go-to' people, get to know who gets stuff done and reach out to them. They may provide a useful connection, and in this world of vertical specialization within industries you may likely find them again at another company. It's a very narrow world.

And for what it's worth look into EAP-style benefits where you are currently employed; often counselling is offered that's confidential which I've found in the past to be surprisingly helpful. (But to be frank my own expectations were set very low.)

Best of luck, signed

Someone who has 'been there'.
posted by scooterdog at 11:46 AM on July 22, 2017

I've been in the situation where you take a job feeling confident and excited, but then it just doesn't go right at all and it saps all your energy. It sucks and you feel sort of trapped because you just got there, but you feel like you're bailing out water in a leaky ship in trying to do your job. But I think the important thing to keep in mind here is that if your bosses think you suck, it doesn't matter as much as it feels like it does. Even if you were to lose your job, it wouldn't be the end of the world. You will still be able to get a new job.

Would you be riding as high as you did when you got this job? No, but you can get out on the other side of losing your job if you have good experience and a good network. All you need after this job is your next job, and then this job really doesn't matter at all anymore. And in making a move to a new job, it doesn't have to be a huge step up -- I've taken jobs with less money than I was previously making because it took me in a better direction career-wise. Maybe you will have to be a little less picky about salary and benefits, but I think being happy at work is worth a lot more than an extra $25,000 per year or whatever it is. After all, you spend most of your waking hours at work, so you better not be miserable there,

So my advice here would be to try to worry less about the crippling fear that your boss will yell at you, worry less about trying to succeed in your job there and worry less that, ultimately, you might get fired. Remember: it wouldn't be the end of the world. So, now that you're not afraid to get fired and you aren't worried about doing a great job, start shifting your energy away from your job and putting out misery fires there, and instead start focusing on finding a new job. At my most brazen, I have looked for jobs and updated my resume *while* at work. You shouldn't do that -- do gift them reasons to fire you -- but you should make a shift in your priorities. This job just doesn't matter for you anymore and it would be far better you be a little slower in a job where everything you do is wrong anyway if you can find a way to get out.

Go through other recruiters, but I strongly recommend you start activating your network. Get coffee with people in your field. Let friends and colleagues know you are looking for something else. You can make this happen, but you can't both put all your energy into your shitty job AND finding a new job. You're gonna need to shift some energy toward the job hunt.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

IMO, when you find yourself in a toxic work situation, there is nothing unprofessional about just not doing tasks which are a) unappreciated and b) not essential. That will help you claw back some time to recharge and job search. Also, if you can make any financial and/or other compromises to expand the pool of available job opportunities (such as a pay cut or a longer commute) that's worth doing in this case.
posted by jazzbaby at 12:04 PM on July 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've been EXACTLY where you's beyond horrible.

Seconding checking to see if you have an EAP program for free short-term counseling--that's what I did and my counselor very quickly helped me realize that I didn't need strategies to help me stay--I needed strategies to help me get out. Do whatever you need to do to get another job--and it can be a "job" for now rather than a "career"--that will at least pay your minimum bills for now. I know that's easier said than done, but your mental, emotional and physical health are worth too much to sacrifice.

And until you can get out, don't feel any guilt over doing the bare minimum to get yourself through the day, even though that probably goes against your usual ethics. You don't owe these people anything--they lied to you and are treating you badly.

I wish you good luck--this type of situation is soul-sucking. Feel free to me-mail me if you want to vent or would like support from someone who has been there. Hugs if you want them...
posted by bookmammal at 1:10 PM on July 22, 2017

I appreciate all of the responses so far and just want to clarify that I left my last job because, after more than 10 years, it ended, not unlike a business closure, so while my former boss is certainly a reference, he isn't himself a source.

Also, sadly, for a variety of reasons, I took a significant pay cut when I took this job, and went from non-exempt to exempt, so my current income is well below what I have earned fpr years. Decades, even. I'm a lawyer who chooses not to work as a lawyer, so this company is getting an experienced transactions attorney for the price of a paralegal.

I am on anti-depressants and have been stable on these for a decade or so, with some tweaks here and there. We don't have an EAP and the only disability ins (short or long term) is state sponsored. It's a startup. I guess I should be grateful that we have health insurance. Along with my roles in the legal department, I'm the hr director, recruiting coordinator, payroll administrator and benefits coordinator. And investor relations and vendor management and state licensing contact and state and local tax administrator.
posted by janey47 at 1:16 PM on July 22, 2017

I haven't actually done this myself, but I hear "temp agency" mentioned a lot on the green, particularly by MeFites who I trust. I bet if you talk to a temp agency, you could quickly get some sort of stop-gap administrative/HR temp or contract job for a while that would allow you to destress while you find a new permanent job. OfficeTeam by Robert Half is a reputable local agency, and I'm sure there are many more.
posted by radioamy at 2:50 PM on July 22, 2017

Ah startups. Where you get to work night and day on someone else dream. Usually an asshole. You sound like a good candidate for either a regular paralegal job or a government job in a grants program or other legal heavy program.
posted by fshgrl at 4:07 PM on July 22, 2017

I really like fshgrl's advice above. You HAVE to take care of yourself though. You have to. Eat better. Make exercise a priority. Start keeping a notebook of all the fucked up shit that they are doing to you. Writing it out might help you vent.

It might be helpful and therapeutic for you to read this link frequently shared on Metafilter about sick systems.
posted by Brittanie at 5:24 PM on July 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh my god, I have been you. I made it out alive. Just. This is what I did: found a coach to strategize my exit plan / resume and pitch with (I was so demoralized I just could not do this alone); sought help from a counsellor who specialized in surviving sociopaths in the work place (provided sanity check, survival strategies); kept my eye on job listings and when one came up that I liked, took personal leave, long enough to work on my resume, pitch and interview without the toxic miasma of my dysfunctional workplace seeping into everything. I was prepared to take leave without pay or be fired. I got the job and resigned within about 30 seconds of signing.

In hindsight I would have left ASAP the second I realised what I was dealing with. The year (!!!) I spent getting out from under could have been spent moving forward. You may find too that you are a different person when you have left - those 30 days to yourself are going to be 30 very different days than if you stay. In the best way possible.

TLDR: Get as much support as you can. Run and don't look back.
posted by t0astie at 6:48 PM on July 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Dan Lyons recently wrote about similar, demeaning work experiences at Hub Spot in "Disrupted." Aside from being a wonderful read, Lyons desctibes similar feelings of dispair when he learns he was lied to by executive management and has to put up with an ocean of BS from the kakistocracy that actually runs the organization.

One coping mechanism a friend recommends to Lyons is to record the idiocy as if he were Jane Goodell observing the chimpanzees. Shifting the experience from work to anthropology project helps him create the mental distance he needed to survive and it became the souce material for his book (and his contributions to HBOs silicon valley).

I have inadvertently used this technique in terrible jobs I've had. I found it slowed down my thinking, sometimes, attenuating the emotional punch of the petty humiliations. Slowing down helped me kick start my more analytical thought processes. Allowing me perform a little bit of root cause analysis on the org, develop testable hypothesize about the motivations of the people, and (useful for later) helped me improve my ability to identify the good liars and terrible places to work.

In the short term this observational project helped me cope by helping me anticipate (and see) where the big ball of shit was going to go, and how folks might respond. It also helped me develop the narrative that I'd needed to explain my role (in interviews) and develop a neutral answer to questions about why I was moving on. But more interestingly the observations helped me identify how to make fun of those people or the situation. Sharing the (gallows) humor was a great way to diminish these characters, and find allies to make the experience less lonely.
posted by cheez-it at 7:51 PM on July 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

So sorry you are going through this. I've been in a few similar situations and the main thing that helped me was establishing ruthless boundaries and sticking to them. Think of yourself as a homesteader in the middle of a very thick forest: no matter what you do, nature is going to press in on the edges of your little farm, so the question is, how much territory do you need to be comfortable? The trees and weeds are going to try to encroach on a tiny patch of territory just as hard as on a larger one, so you won't make life easier by making your needs smaller. You could work 24/7 for these people and it would not be enough for them and would only kill you.

In practical terms, what this meant to me was: not working a minute longer than my required hours and being diligent about taking breaks and lunch hours; no checking e-mail after hours either; getting enough sleep every night, even if that meant taking a melatonin or other sleep aid, even calling in sick or being late to the office if I couldn't fall asleep at the right time the night before; blocking out time for exercise; and scheduling social time on the weekends and at least one evening a week, even if I didn't feel like it.

It wasn't easy and sometimes I felt like it wasn't working, but over time, I got enough mental space and energy to make a change. I hope the same thing happens for you.
posted by rpfields at 8:19 PM on July 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

The recruiter who placed you is not very good, is she? Or she wouldn't have put you in this situation -- both because of the bad environment and because of the pay cut. If you're not contacting other recruiters because of some loyalty to "yours", jettison that right away.

Your resume is still fresh and one blip like this is no big deal. In the bay's tech industry every company is delighted to hear that the competition is a terrible place to work (although you wouldn't say that explicitly, not at first - you'd focus on the scope of the job.) Apply for everything else you see that sounds like a good fit. (Focus on your paralegal experience, not attorney status. When you're looking for paralegal work, the JD is actually, unfortunately, a hurdle.)

It sounds like these folks are putting a target on your back anyway, so it's a matter of time before they fire you and that will be much worse. Get out now. This place is not a worthy investment of your pride, your work ethic, or your wellbeing.

(Been there, done that.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:16 AM on July 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you went in every day and did nothing and they fired you, you would end up with more unemployment money than if you quit. Don't rage quit. Don't. Even if you did just never go back and stayed in bed and they eventually fired you, that would be better for you in the long term than rage quitting. So don't.

You need to get activated. The human body can lift enormous weights for a short time with enough adrenaline. What you should be lifting is yourself, by the way. Now is the time to apply to all those jobs that always seemed unrealistic and like a stretch. You literally have nothing to lose. Yes, please call former bosses as fshgirl said. Don't be afraid.

Consider it training on behalf of the human race as well. As a species, we need people who are willing to venture into the heart of darkness! Understanding how cruel and fucked up your work place has a value in the order of things. It's like investigative reporting. Trust that some day, this knowledge will contribute to the betterment of humanity.

Hang in there!
posted by benadryl at 5:08 PM on July 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

While I generally agree that your advice is sound, Benadryl, this company actually has filed objections to unemployment claims on the grounds that the employee was fired for cause. I'm not worried about being fired, tbh, they aren't that stupid. This really is the "sick system" described in the article linked by Brittanie.

For clarity, I'm not afraid of being fired, I'm exhausted and demoralized by trying to do my job. I have to quit, I won't do it in a rage, and I'd like to finish 2 very important projects before I do. I'm not afraid of earning less, but I won't take shit pay in an exempt posirion again. I'm like the only person in the world who wants a good job and not to further her career.
posted by janey47 at 6:34 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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