My new job isn’t working out.
February 5, 2019 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I recently started a job with an organization that isn’t great. What should I do, and how do I tell my references?

I accepted a position in my field that seemed okay. The actual work of the job is within my ability, but it’s in an area of my field where I haven’t worked. Pay was half what other positions in my field get, but I’d been temping so long I jumped at the opportunity to get a stable, permanent job

I’ve had some bad experiences with nonexistent onboarding, and I asked in the interview about training. My supervisor assured me there was a long onboarding process. On my first day, I was given a project to complete independently and a list of instructions. When my boss reviewed it, she said “here are all the things you’ve missed.” Because I’ve been uncomfortable working independently on these projects without any training, I called a meeting with her two weeks ago. I had a panic attack in the meeting (I have generalized anxiety disorder) and struggled to advocate for myself. A few days later, she switched me to what she regarded as an easier project, “because we don’t want you having an anxiety attack at work.” She has made other snippy comments about the quality of my work, and I’m concerned this is becoming an abusive work environment. (Because the organization is small, there’s no HR department where I can address my concerns.)

My concerns are twofold. First, I want to start looking for another job, but I’ve only been at this one for less than a month. I don’t want to skip from job to job. Should I try to tough it out here? Second, I told my references this would be a permanent job. One of them works for a company where I would like to work one day, and I don’t want him to think I’m skipping from job to job. How should I explain this to him?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Should I try to tough it out here?

NOPE. Get out now.

How should I explain this to him?

"I was so excited about this job, but unfortunately I've discovered that it's a toxic environment that isn't healthy for me. I'm still looking for my permanent role, so please keep me in mind if you see anything."
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:40 PM on February 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

Pay was half what other positions in my field get, but I’d been temping so long I jumped at the opportunity to get a stable, permanent job

Ugh, I hate to say this, but: short of them setting you on fire, if you're at the point where you feel you need a permanent job, and you've been struggling to find one (which is what it sounds like?), then you need to hang onto the permanent job you have. You should put in at least a year on this one. Prospective employers looking at a resume of short-term jobs and hearing that you are looking to leave the first long-term one you've had in a while right away are going to have serious doubts. After a year, it will be much easier to tell your reference (if you think you have to discuss it at all) that the job, while blahblahblah, doesn't focus on what you're really interested in, which you now realize is blahblahblah. Detach emotionally in advance if you need to to survive.

Second, hopefully this permanent job has benefits like health insurance. You should also get some therapy to help with managing the anxiety. Please, please understand that I am not saying this to be judgmental, only to be practical: you will find it very hard to build a career if you have panic attacks in meetings. No matter how disability-accommodating they profess to be, they will not trust or respect you if this happens often. Exploit the benefits available to you right now to build yourself up for the future.

(Note: I'm definitely of the hide-all-weaknesses-at-work-because-they-will-be-used-against-you school, whereas a lot of Mefi is of the disclose-all-and-demand-to-be-well-treated school, which has its own strengths. I'm sure someone from that school will come along and give you advice, and I encourage you to listen to them, too. Just compare your a prioris to each of ours.)
posted by praemunire at 2:41 PM on February 5, 2019 [31 favorites]

I know your question was about references but in your shoes I would do two things: I would start looking for a new job, and I would work to make the current job more livable for yourself. Those may sound contradictory but it sounds like you need both a Plan A and Plan B here.

Start looking for new jobs. I wouldn't tell your references anything about why you're interviewing elsewhere. Just thank them profusely for what they've done for you, and ask if they could continue to serve as your reference.

Now, current job. If you stay there it sounds like you need allies. Is there anyone (not your boss) who can help you train and improve at the aspects of the job you're struggling with? Seek out those people for help. Try to improve your performance in an objective sense, then you can work on changing whatever subjective opinion your boss has of you.

I'd also lean on whatever you use to treat anxiety: meds, therapy, meditation, yoga, uhh medicinal plants.... whatever works for you.

Tell yourself every day that you are a smart, capable person. An environment like that has a way of messing with your head.
posted by coffeeand at 3:13 PM on February 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

From the information you've provided, it sounds to me like it's too early for you to know what this job is really like. All jobs have a settling in period, and lots of bosses communicate in ways that sometimes come out meaner than they intend. So I think you should give it more time.

If you DO start looking, don't mention it to your references until you need to actually provide references, and tell them the new opportunity was closer to what you're looking for.

(I assume you've already made sure that your reference at the company you like knows you're interested?)
posted by metasarah at 3:35 PM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you choose to tough it out (for reasons already explained above) it can help to view your interactions with your boss this way -

Direct feedback on the quality of the work should be expected: if a piece of work is completed with 8 errors, they should be pointed so they are not repeated in the future. You being a new hire with no real training is certainly taken into account: has your boss said that they are unhappy with "you" as an employee? Making mistakes in a new job is completely expected, but having an anxiety attack about it is not, unfortunately. What managers typically look for in new hires isn't your technical capability - it's assumed new hires have little of that, and in any case it can be trained - what they're looking for is resilience and openness to learning.

Try to see it as a learning process - the fastest way to learn is to make errors. Think about it - if there was work that was "actually" important, either they would either let you do it as a learning exercise then spend the time to check and correct it, or if time was a constraint, they would just do it themselves. They're giving you this work specifically because it's a safe learning opportunity with no real consequences to the business when you get it wrong.
posted by xdvesper at 4:38 PM on February 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

On my first day, I was given a project to complete independently and a list of instructions. When my boss reviewed it, she said “here are all the things you’ve missed.”
This sounds like training to me. It’s not hand holding and your boss sounds like an ass for mocking you, but giving you instructions, letting you try and giving you feedback sounds like training.
Given your history of temping I agree you should try and stick to this one for a year. I repeat, the boss sounds like a bit of a jerk, but I’m not really seeing abusive or toxic flags here. Things could escalate so be aware and seek therapy but from what you have written here I think you should try and apply their feedback, ask questions when you are unsure of your work, and try to make some work friends.
posted by like_neon at 1:34 AM on February 6, 2019

Also, no reference (at least, no one reasonable) expects that you can guarantee any job is going to be "permanent," because what you see when interviewing isn't the same as what you get when you're actually working there. It's not just willy-nilly job skipping to leave a position where your management isn't committed to setting you up for success.

It's true that it may be too soon to tell if this the scenario in play, and as one anxious person to another, I want you to really be cautious when considering your next steps. Your manager may not be kind, but are her concerns about your work quality valid -- what I mean is, are her expectations out of whack (because you haven't had specific training) or are they in line with the experience you presented (your comment that you were capable of doing the work but didn't have experience in that specific field)? Have you followed up on the promised training? Is there anything that can be helpful to you in your future goals, that can be gained by either committing (internally) to a year, or staying in this role while you job hunt?

I ask these things because the experience of being "new" is incredibly anxiety inducing for me, and I really struggle with making mistakes and asking for help. The combination of that has had me contemplating quitting jobs that in the end were not necessarily where I wanted to be long-long term, but where I did experience opportunities for growth and development that seemed completely invisible during that initial hurdle... or, minimally, I could stick it out long enough to collect a paycheck while looking for something better.

Just something to consider. I wish you the best of luck!
posted by sm1tten at 8:07 PM on February 6, 2019

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