Workplace inferno - is this normal or is there something wrong with me?
February 18, 2021 2:46 AM   Subscribe

I started a job a few months ago in a well-known multinational firm as a trainee. This is my first job out of university, and it was everything I thought I wanted to do. But I think I have unwittingly stepped into my very own inferno.

It's been three months now, and some things are bothering me to the point where I have to take an Ambien and a Valium to get to sleep on work days. I don't know if it's me being lazy, unmotivated, or I'm just not cut out to work in a corporate setting.

Some things of note:

- I've not been performing great - small, careless mistakes were often made and it was pointed out to be several times before I was finally diagnosed with adult ADHD and started medication for it. When my manager pulled me aside about my crappy work, I told her that I feel that my work has been improving, and that the medication is helping tremendously. She replied with two things: 1) are you fit to work at all? 2) Why are you telling me this? It sounds like you are using this as a crutch.

I told her that I only brought the matter up as it directly affected my quality of work. She said that I had two weeks to get my shit together, or I was in danger. She requested that I make no mistakes in two weeks.

- My colleagues have no life outside of work. I get emails at 1am, sometimes 2am. The office smells like food because everyone eats at their desk. I don't like having lunch in the office. Sometimes I overhear senior associates criticising lower level associates or interns behind their bank, to the point of saying things like "not sure why he's even here, he doesn't do anything right", etc.

- I am new to the industry, having majored in something completely different to what we are doing at the company. Sometimes when I ask questions my colleagues are impatient and appear very annoyed. I never ask the same thing twice, and often ask questions when it comes to client liaisons as I was told to always go through my responses with senior associates before sending them out.

- If you've made a mistake, the whole team, up to the director, will be copied in an email from someone lambasting you. I have been on the receiving end of this, as well as the other trainee. That night, I was driven to tears by humiliation. The other trainee has started getting health issues due to stress (doctor's diagnosis).

- My seniors sometimes ignore my requests for feedback during work hours and then respond at 6:30 or 7, when our work day ends at 6, expecting me to have the changes made that very same night. At first, I would just let it go and get on with my evening, but it was then alluded to that I was not taking initiative or working hard enough. In an attempt to prove myself, some nights I work until 8 or 9pm. I do not get paid overtime. They are still slow at giving feedback even when they ask me to send them things to review, and I was told that I should chase them for said feedback.

This is in an extremely fast-paced industry, where things go faster than I can wrap my head around, but I am trying my best, three months in, and I feel burnt out and unappreciated at work. I do not feel trained for certain tasks, even though I am expected to do them. My manager has told me that if I can't keep up, this is not the right industry for me. I'm second-guessing myself now. I do take pride in what I do, but I'm becoming less and less interested in the work that I'm doing. I find myself frustrated about my colleague's attitudes, and I'm constantly complaining about work.

It's no fun. I no longer go to things outside of work. I see my friends rarely, I don't do ballet anymore, I can't even bring myself to read on some nights. On days that I work from home, which is most days, I wake up, make a cup of tea, sit at my desk from 9 to 6, get up, then lie in bed until past midnight to do it all over again, 5 times a week. I keep thinking this can't be it, I can't do this for the rest of my life.

So can you tell me if I really need to just pull up my bootstraps and get on with it in order to succeed, or is this definitely not it? Am I just dreaming and there are no workplaces that aren't like this?
posted by antihistameme to Work & Money (53 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
That ain't it. Workplaces can be much better than this. Don't let the bastards grind you down.
posted by johngoren at 2:53 AM on February 18 [50 favorites]

It may be that, since this is your first job out of college, you aren't completely in sync with the culture. See if you can get someone in the company to mentor you; you need clues and nobody is giving them to you currently.

This does sound like a toxic culture; a mentor could help confirm this or help you figure out what you could do to make the best of it (or help you figure out if you need to move on).
posted by amtho at 2:55 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

That all sounds totally standard for many large law or consulting firms. They aren’t a good fit for most people, frankly. Many people flame out, or do a slow burn. The model expects most people who come in to leave sooner or later. Sounds like you might be sooner?

If I were you, I would do some thinking about what I really wanted to be doing and then figure out what other jobs would help me get there. Moving to a different firm probably won’t fix the basic underlying issues.
posted by ohio at 3:12 AM on February 18 [16 favorites]

From a UK perspective, and picking up on what Ohio said, it sounds like standard practice for large law firms *about 5 years ago*. The better ones have upped their game significantly and this sort of nonsense doesn’t really fly any more (with pockets of exception obviously).

I don’t know your location or your industry/profession, but I would start by trying to find out whether all comparable firms in your area (literal and metaphorical) have a similarly toxic culture. That will help decide whether it’s just this workplace or not.

But either way, no there’s not something wrong with you. If you are a lawyer, you’re going to have to expect demands to work past 6pm sometimes, but you shouldn’t have to put up with this level of toxicity.
posted by JJZByBffqU at 3:24 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

If I can say two slightly contradictory things here, I think that while it's possible to identify a toxic work culture in absolute terms, it's also possible to identify work cultures in more relative terms, eg that some of us might find toxic, even if other people in that culture think it's OK. The thing is, those people are effectively the survivors in that culture: they fit.

Which means that a workplace can feel toxic to you even if it doesn't to other people, and the important thing is that this is not a negative reflection on you. It's simply a signal that this culture might not be a good fit for you.

I'd describe this workplace as toxic in absolute terms, though others might not. But you need to feel OK that it might not be a good workplace for you and that your personality might fit better somewhere else.

I say this as an old fart who has twice chosen to leave work environments that were toxic for my personality, so I've been there.
posted by dowcrag at 3:26 AM on February 18 [38 favorites]

This workplace culture is unhealthy, and quite frankly one of the reasons there are workplace laws, but that they aren't strong enough.

This company wants your all, all the time. They want you to be the best and focused all the time. They want you to eat at your desk everyday.

You have three choices in this 1) GTFO 2) give it your all until you can't or they decide it's not enough anyway 3) keep doing what you are doing and be fired.

None of this is really a reflection on you. This is unhealthy and quite frankly, dangerous and unrealistic. But you aren't going to change that. There are some industries where this is more standard, but it's hard to tell from your post if that may be true or not.

It is okay if you can't do this. Honestly, most people can't. It's not a normal work environment.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:27 AM on February 18 [9 favorites]

The people who "can" do this, and stay in jobs like this, do so at the expense of the other people in their lives. I don't mean necessarily that they don't have other people in their lives, but the people they do have are left to take up the things that employees like this can't - because they no longer have time, energy, or focus for being a good spouse/partner/child/parent/community member.
posted by amtho at 3:40 AM on February 18 [18 favorites]

...and I don't think that's OK. The world needs smart, focused, creative people taking care of other people in many, many ways.
posted by amtho at 3:41 AM on February 18 [19 favorites]

also from the big us / uk law firm perspective (i don't know if that's the industry you're in, but it's the only one i can speak to):

- the long hours, late night emails, fast pace, and lack of work / life balance are all normal. you can work at a law firm without dealing with all that, but the tradeoff is you'll probably get paid a lot less (because you'll be working at a smaller firm).

- needing to chase for feedback and being asked to do things you've not been properly trained for are also pretty common - the former because people are usually working flat out and trainee feedback isn't the top priority (but non-toxic people are happy to give it if you chase them), and the latter because the expectation is you mostly learn by doing (which is fine - non-toxic people expect trainees to make mistakes and learn from them).

- everything else is a problem with your workplace and toxic colleagues specifically, and there will be plenty of other firms that don't have those problems.

there's nothing wrong with you, and this isn't necessarily the wrong industry for you - you're working in a shitty team.

it might be that you'd find the long hours etc. unsustainable at any firm (which is also not a sign of anything being wrong with you - just a case of the job's demands not matching your priorities in life), but having colleagues like this makes it so much harder.
posted by inire at 3:52 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

It depends on the company culture, and how well do you want to fit in, and how is your attitude toward this job... Just do "minimum viable work", or actually surpass expectations?

I am not a therapist or a counselor or such. I will tell you what I think, and since the opinion is free, feel free to ignore it.

* You should NOT have mentioned your diagnosis for adult ADHD. They are not looking for a reason. They just want to give you feedback, not spending time "managing" you. They don't have time for that. All you need to say at the time is "Got it loud and clear." Even take notes, if you have to.

* Come up with a plan to "fix" whatever problem you're having. If you are making silly mistakes, do NOT submit them right away. Spend another 5-10 minutes looking over it before submitting it. Simple but action-able steps.

* Stop taking criticism and negative feedback "personally". So what if the entire company knows about it. You are TRAINEES, you're supposed to make mistakes... and learn from them. Supposedly EVERYBODY in the company had been a trainee at one time or another. And sure, the system could use a bit more "kinder and gentler" handholding period, but you deal with what you have. Lamenting for what "could have been" does not help your situation. Learn to the EMOTIONS associated with the criticism go, leave only the essence, the actually mistake, and the logic (why it's a mistake) and the remedy (how not to repeat it). "Hazing the noob" is often a part of institutional culture. But once you've made it through, you may yet earn their respect.

* If necessary, conduct malicious compliance. They said you should chase them for feedback, even at night? Compose your answer at 6PM, but have a delay send at 1AM. You need to take pleasure where you can get it, even petty ones. But let technology help you. Staying up until 1AM? No way. The PC can do that for you.

* It's okay to feel a bit overwhelmed. If you're encountering something new, you're learning. And "imposter syndrome" is a thing. But admitting it to others? Never! :D "Fake it till you make it!"

Not saying my situation is comparable, but I'm probably twice as old as you, got sidetrack into a completely different career than what I studied for, and I should be making 3-10x what I make now, but it's the job that I can find, and it's at least SOMEWHAT related to what love: tech and PCs. I am the oldest person in the company, not that people really notice, but I'm also the noob/rookie and asks questions all the time. It doesn't help I'm probably vastly OVERqualified for the position, but a job is a job, esp. during COVID times. While the pressure is not as bad as yours, I've been told on the 2nd day I need to "pick up the pace". Fortunately by that time I've gotten the hang of things, so on the 3rd day my throughput is much better and near par, but probably need to go even faster. Guess I'll have made it when they make me a perm rather than probationary. :D
posted by kschang at 4:16 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

This sounds horrible, and is not representative of most workplaces. Please start looking for something more humane.
posted by nkknkk at 5:32 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Beyond anything else I read in your question, the humiliating all-staff email as a normal pattern of behaviour stuck with me the most.

What advantage is gained, what improvement in your work is possibly going to stem from this? These people have no interest in managing you, helping you grow, or understanding how who you are and what you bring to the office will help the whole organisation.

For comparison: I work in K-12 education - by no means a happy field to work these days, and one of the most stressful, emotional and competitive out there; for part of my week, I'm literally responsible for keeping hundreds of children alive in an emergency should one happen - and if I received an email like that even once, I'd talk to my manager about why my dignity didn't matter, why everyone needed to know about a mistake that didn't endanger anyone's life, and why our manager-employee relationship would be changing or I'd be leaving. I'd demand to be formally written up and have my offense documented. I'd raise a grievance with HR and be talking to my union rep. I'd be documenting every single incident going forward.

This office is a sick system and I hope you find a new job soon, because you must leave this office. I'm sorry.
posted by mdonley at 5:41 AM on February 18 [11 favorites]

I have relatives who work in law firms and the long hours sound par for the course. Not every job needs to have great work life balance if the trade off is that you enjoy your work, make money and have social prestige. You need to decide if the trade offs are worthwhile for you. To be honest, not much of it comes across as toxic as much as stressful and difficult. Toxic is when people are playing petty politics, back stabbing, baiting and switching, not setting clear expectations, discriminating, expecting long hours from juniors while slacking off themselves, playing favorites, etc.

I get it, I couldn’t be in a career with such demanding hours and low tolerance for mistakes either (though mine also is reasonably high on that spectrum). I think this is a good opportunity for you to find out if you want to choose this path. It sounds like you’re young, and I’d say this is a great time to learn to grow a thicker skin, pick up the knowledge and work ethic, and leave when you’ve had enough.
posted by redlines at 5:41 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

As to your last question, yes, there are plenty of workplaces not like this. But — trade offs.
posted by redlines at 5:44 AM on February 18

Some of the things you describe are just adjusting to the working world.

There's often quite a low tolerance for frequent small mistakes by junior people after they've been there for a bit. Asking question should be fine, but not if you ought to have reasonably known the answer or done some work towards finding the answer. In general, the expectation is that you will make fewer mistakes over time and need to ask fewer questions because you will know more things. It is definitely normal to need to chase people for work they should be reviewing. I would expect even a very new to work person I employed to have made substantive headway on this within a few months, and might assume that if it's not good enough 6 months in then it's not going to be. (You may not have had the right management and support to do this, so not your fault at all, but I suspect the outcome would be the same.)

Other things might be standard for your industry/type of organisation.

The hours culture and the pace of work varies considerably from sector to sector and between different sizes of organisation. In your position you either need to be able to adapt to the kind of organisation you've chosen to work at or find a different kind of organisation.

Other things just sound not ok.

You shouldn't be berated for using prescribed medication (and ADHD may qualify for disability protection). It's usually unhelpful and counter-productive to criticise people publicly including via email; once or twice you can learn to brush off but repeatedly suggests a poor organisational culture. It again speaks poorly of the culture that you are overhearing people bitching about colleagues frequently.

I think the answer is to look for a different job because this one does not sound good at all. But have a very honest conversation with yourself about whether you have chosen the right sector/profession and kind of organisation for you. Prestige generally means longer hours and fast pace, and those really don't suit everyone.
posted by plonkee at 5:45 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

I have had some pretty stressful jobs in my career, including the one I'm currently in, and in none of them did my supervisor blast email the entire department about my mistake. If the idea was that it was a learning opportunity for the whole team, it isn't necessary to name and shame, or if it is there's at least a way to do it with compassion.

I think most people above have it covered, in terms of "normal for certain kinds of workplaces" does not equal "good fit for you or something you must tolerate."

My first real job out of grad school was the opposite - super tiny family owned company - but was just so awful to me in terms of management and culture that I too had existential questions about adult working life. I literally asked the same questions you are -- is this just what working is? Are all jobs like this? Do I need to give up on a decent income and work a service industry job which I at least know I'm good at and don't hate?

I have good news for you - the next job I got launched my career, and I stayed there for 14 years with plenty of promotions and interesting work and good people to work with. I left of my own accord to join my current org because it's more aligned with my degree and I continue to do well. Even if this one is a bit more stressful and has higher expectations, the people here are great and no one would EVER think to email a whole department to rat out someone's mistake. It sounds like you are not in the US so I can't totally speak to workplace culture elsewhere, but I am sure your experience is not universal in every company in every industry.

I too was a more passive and unconfident employee at first, but years of working in supportive workplaces have significantly bolstered my confidence. Trial by fire is not the only way to grow a career. I do agree with others that mistakes are not great, and it's up to you to figure out processes that help you avoid them. On the other hand, high-pressure, high-speed environments don't lend themselves to detailed review and proofreading.

There is hope. Find another job, and try to look for supportive, welcoming cultures. Now you know what questions to ask in interviews and what to look out for. Things will get better, I promise.
posted by misskaz at 6:32 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

ctrl+f "pandemic" and not one hit?

Not every workplace or industry is like this, for sure, but every workplace is dealing with a significant trauma and upheaval of [gestures around generally]. The last year has taken everyone through the ringer and its just so shitty. Sounds like you have a crap boss in a crap environment, unfortunately the reality of most workplaces is its hard to tell from the outside what the odds of ending up in another situation like yours are (everyone puts their best foot forward in the interviewing process, never forget).

Sure, maybe work will always suck (something ive had to internalize as i came to think of myself as an adult) but its distinctly more sucky everywhere right now, so youre right to be dismayed at your situation but worrying about it being like this forever may be premature. It sounds like this job was probably bad before and the world has pushed it from bad to awful, maybe try to find yourself something that was good before and has slid to merely not-good in the current situation?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 6:45 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Life is short friend. And that work environment sounds AWFUL. As soon as you can, get out. Good luck.
posted by a3matrix at 7:20 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I've done time at high end consulting firms with similar cultures, where billable hours drive everything and asshole behavior like that your describe is rampant. So figure out what you need to get out of this experience to maximize its value to your resume and improve your ability to achieve the next rung on your career ladder. For example, if it's in accounting, decide if you want to stay long enough to gather the hours in each specialization as required to sit for your CPA exam. If it's a prestigious gig in any field, how long must you stay to become an attractive candidate to a smaller boutique firm or a company resembling one of your clients? Is grad school in the cards and, if so, does this help your application? Over the shorter term, if your training program gives you exposure to other teams/units, does that help you define your preferences or position you to switch once its concluded? Having purpose and a light at the end of the tunnel will help you endure.

Regarding hazing the noobs, it's definitely a thing. I planned my getaway after I billed over 40 sequential hours (an all-nighter, followed by a long plane ride on a client's behalf to an earlier time zone, followed by a long day there) and no one even blinked an eye, let alone questioned it. But I have no regrets; it helped me refine what I wanted out of my career and how it should fit into my life.

One practical tip: whenever possible, ask what past work would serve as a good model for whatever task you've been assigned, and follow that roadmap.
posted by carmicha at 7:34 AM on February 18 [11 favorites]

Some of the tiredness and not having time for friends and extracurriculars is just a transition factor - sitting on your backside concentrating on work for 8+ hours is hard on the brain, especially in a fast-paced environment like that.

There's an adjustment in how your manager isn't your friend/parent, so don't give them reasons for mistakes - either signal acceptance of the feedback or possibly bring up solutions like checklists that you will actually use. The ADHD is your own problem unless you actually ask for concrete accomodations. Sure, a good manager would be invested in helping you succeed and proactively look for solutions, but you need more rapport and relationship-building to get to that stage. A lot of trainees in environments like that wash out fast, so your manager may have been burned too many times.

The 1AM emails and the email blast reprimands are the toxic bits, especially if the hours aren't exceptional. I've worked in similar fast-paced environments, but what made the difference was managers that modelled what I'd call classy behaviour, including making sure the newbies didn't kill themselves working late. The attitude with mistakes should be "how do we solve this?" rather than attacking. Mind you, I was still a nervous wreck by 30 because some kinds of pace are unsustainable in the long run.

(I actually guessed professional services/consulting, McKinsey type work, though my friends in similar jobs think a 12-hour day is a light one, so maybe Big 4? Thinking especially of that lead partner who was recently canned for telling people not to play victim and blame the pandemic for things...)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 7:40 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

"EVERYBODY in the company had been a trainee at one time or another"

This is actually why the culture is so sick. It's a similar dynamic as hazing in fraternities: the senior people are people who made it through this training period successfully, and they believe that if they can make it, the other trainees should, too, or else they shouldn't work there. And also why you, the OP, need to move on. It's not going to get any better for you there.

It can get better elsewhere, depending on the industry. In general, more prestigious industries tend to be more toxic in ways like this, because there are plenty of people who are willing to put up with the toxicity in exchange for the prestige.

Since this is your first job, OP, you probably haven't thought much about work environment yet. (That's normal; a lot of people still don't know what they want to do, let alone the environment in which they want to do it.) But now that you've had this experience, take some time to consider what works and doesn't work for you personally. For example, some people really like travelling for work, and the ability to travel is one of the big benefits of a job. Others really hate travelling and see it as a huge burden. Others (me, for example) are in between - it's nice to travel occasionally but not all the time. You won't be able to make a complete list of topics; I'm 40 and I'm still adding to my list. But take some time to think about it, so that you can ask about it in interviews. (Don't ask directly, usually - you don't want to say something like "what happens if I make a bunch of little mistakes?" - but once you've got your list, you can work on ways to ask obliquely. Like, if you want an idea of whether you'll have to work after 5pm, you can ask what kinds of extracurricular activities team members do together. Do you have a company softball team? Happy hours? If they respond that there's never time to do stuff like that, it means they expect you to work late. But this is definitely something you should be asking about in interviews. Remember, you're interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:19 AM on February 18

Take a good, hard look at your fellow co-workers. Do you want to become them? Because, you will have to become them in order to a) survive, and b) advance. That's simply what the culture demands. Stay only if you honestly want to become them.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:25 AM on February 18 [16 favorites]

the most i could say is "bad fit". they have a pretty harsh culture, and you're new and learning the ropes. if (a) you've spent 'enough' time trying to adjust and (b) you dread going to work, time to make a change.
posted by j_curiouser at 8:25 AM on February 18

Here are the things in your story that are emblematic of toxic environments:

1) not respecting or acknowledging your very real struggle with ADHD. That is ableist and worse, you were brave enough to be vulnerable to share so that your boss had additional understanding and could help you more effectively and instead they were cruel.

2) creating an environment where mistakes are not allowed is unsafe. Mistakes will get made, the people around you are supposed to help you learn how to make fewer of them.

3) company wide criticism and shaming instead of direct and clear feedback

4) not respecting your personal time, which is yours and to which they are not entitled

5) criticizing your character and not your behaviors or the output of your work (by saying you're not engaged enough on your off time).

I have no idea if you can gtfo, but you aren't crazy, you're being mistreated. It may be that more aggressive people thrive there. No wonder you're having a terrible time sleeping. You aren't being respected! Just remembering you have a right to be imperfect and your coworkers and supervisor would respect that and help you in a safer environment can be helpful.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:32 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

I think you should find another job. Since you got a job at this prestigious firm already, you should have no problem finding another (even in this environment-- the pandemic has barely effected people like you). Do you have friends that work in similar field but don't complain about work? Get them to refer you.
posted by sandmanwv at 8:41 AM on February 18

I had a similar experience at an advertising firm, and one day I realized everyone there was either divorced or fresh out of college, because nobody ever went home or had a life. It was an exciting job and paid ok, but not for me. I moved on and found someplace better.
posted by emjaybee at 8:56 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I think it really depends on the industry in which you work. I do not know about the law, but on Wall Street or finance or some sales roles, while this may not be fun, it is typical of the industry.
posted by AugustWest at 9:00 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Speaking as a mid career adult with ADHD -- you know how the speed in your ADHD meds helps you focus? Well I believe the constant surges of adrenaline in that kind of workplace helps other kinds of brains focus. For me, that particular kind of environmental adrenaline-stress makes me shut down and have worse ADHD. In my opinion if this were ever to be a good fit, at this point, at the beginning of your immersion there, you'd feel anxious sometimes but it would be ok-anxious because you would also be excited and motivated and nervous and energy-filled and ambitious to come out on top. Instead you feel exhausted and checked-out and unhappy. I think that's data enough.
posted by nantucket at 9:01 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

One positive point for you. Even with companies/industries that have thrived over the past year (and there are many) Covid has been highly disruptive of long-standing work patterns and most especially of training and mentorship of entry level hires. You are highly likely to be seeing this company at its worse, in an industry that is at its worse, in dealing with new hires at your level. Things will get better.

On the negative side ...

As unfair as it may be, you have zero future at this company. Anyone who has been put on "no mistakes for two weeks or you will be in danger" likely will never be promoted and is probably on the "fire as soon as possible" list. Start looking for a new job now.

There are whole industries where there is no such thing as a lunch break. You eat at your desk if you're not having a lunch meeting out of office or in a conference room.

There are whole industries where most firms operate at some level around the clock and nights, weekends, holidays and vacations are downshifts, not time off. Providing for truly protected time off would require the firm and its employees to make massive sacrifices in income and/or clientele. Many simply can't do it at any cost, and most of the rest won't do it, in part of course because the senior staff are self-selected over the years to be the people who prioritize income over free time. If you're someone who needs to leave at 6 p.m. on a regular basis and can't handle getting 1 a.m. emails (or eventually being expected to send them), and who will never really be on vacation ... don't work in that industry.
posted by MattD at 9:29 AM on February 18 [13 favorites]

(One possible reason for your manager's hostile reaction to you telling her about your ADHD: now that she knows, when/if she fires you she can't claim not to have known about it. So if that happens, you may have grounds to claim you were unfairly dismissed due to a disability. Whether or not this happens, she may be afraid of it. A tiny bit of leverage which you might now have. IANAL.)

I realise that it sucks. Their psychological game is to make you feel that everything is your fault so that you won't question anything they do, and also so that you'll feel guilted into working extra unpaid hours to "prove yourself."

Depending on how long the traineeship is, and whether you want to stay in this industry, it may be worth finishing out the traineeship before you leave. "I'm currently a trainee at X firm, looking ahead to my next move" is a pretty good job application line.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:02 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

A lot of well meant but poor advice in this thread.

First -- this may not be the industry for you. This job is likely objectively stressful and unpleasant. I am by no means criticizing you for not liking it. But people who are acting like no job is like this and it is always wrong are not doing you favors if you want to stay in this industry.

Assuming this is the industry you want to be in -- and it doesn't have to be-- I'm going to break down for you what is an industry thing and what is a toxic workplace thing:

Industry things with some advice for managing them:

1) Colleagues having no life. This is common for industries where people are essentially on-call all the time. You make up for it by prestige, getting to do interesting things, and/or money. They don't necessarily have "no life," it's that their job is their life. The subtle difference is that if you like your job enough it's not that bad to have your job provide much up much-or-all of your social life, intellectual life, etc. You should be thinking about whether you want this long-term or if you want to exit to something with better work-life balance.

2) People having lunch in the office is an industry thing. Things happen when they happen, and sometimes that's at lunch. It's also the case that many people in high-focus or cognitively-challenging jobs legitimately prefer to focus on something for 4-5 hours straight rather than taking a lunch break. Then when you're done, you're done. I personally am like this and don't enjoy taking breaks when I'm in the middle of something; it's not a "break" just a "delay."

3) People seeming annoyed or impatient when you're doing things that are not actually bad. Sorry, but this is an industry thing. In fast-paced super busy jobs, they may be annoyed at the interruption, annoyed at something else, annoyed that you aren't paying attention to context clues that indicate that you don't want to be interrupted, annoyed that someone else did something...etc. If they "appear annoyed" yes it sucks, but unless they actually say something rude or inappropriate, people in these kinds of high-pressure environments will sometimes be annoyed and that is not personal to you. You will learn how not to annoy them unless you need to, and also how not to care if you annoy them if you need whatever it is that you need. (It's good practice for being assertive in other contexts.)

A few tips -- try to ask 3-4 questions at once to minimize the number of times they have to pull away from their work. Pay attention to their work/mood/attitude; if you don't need something right away try to time it for when they're relaxed. Ask peers and support staff first if it's at all possible they know the answer, rather than senior associates. Generally, ask the most junior person possible and work upwards, even if a senior person gave you the assignment.

Also, this is important -- running drafts/responses by seniors before sending to clients isn't the same as asking questions. If you're asked to draft something (or you know you should), draft it to the best of your ability and flag in the draft email anything you're unsure about. Some juniors who work on my teams will email 4x with things like "who should I cc on the email." This is not horrible and it shows that they're trying to get it right, but it can be...annoying when they could just make their best guess and let me fix anything that's wrong.

(I want to note that if you get yelled at a lot for mistakes, it can lead to this kind of behavior -- checking things a lot and asking a lot of tiny questions -- and that's not your fault AT ALL.)

4) People being slow to give feedback and people asking you to "chase" them. This is probably the number one thing you're being a bit unreasonable about (sorry). You seem shocked that you might have to follow up with people for feedback. The thing is that they are very busy and their time is really valuable and keeping track of your work is not high-priority; you can do it and should do it to the extent that you can. Also, they are not delaying feedback, which seems to indicate that they're just waiting to mess with you or something -- actually, they are very busy (as you know because you get the 1am emails). Working until 8 is normal and expected without overtime. It sucks but ignoring a request and going about your evening if something really does need to get done is really not something that will work in a fast-paced industry. Honestly, this is the first thing that would get you fired at my job because it's not feasible -- like, it literally cannot be done -- to have people completely clock off if they have any kind of value to the team.

And -- and this might be part of the bad vibe you're picking up -- it can end up ruining everyone else's nights/weekends/time off if they have to cover for you on top of doing their work because you don't want to work in the evening or whatever. (I did this once -- ignored a follow-up on an assignment because it was already 6 and I wasn't checking my email even though I expected something. I literally wrecked someone's birthday dinner because he had to come into to the office and do something I could have done in 20 minutes. Everyone else was busy and he wasn't because he'd deliberately cleared his night for his birthday. Yikes.)

For the most part, because they are more valuable and know more, your seniors are doing more work than you, not less, and that's something to be mindful of when you're feeling impatient that they're not doing your stuff first. Take breaks while you're waiting for their feedback, run errands, go get a snack at a coffee shop, take a walk, connect with someone in the office who's friendly and not busy, be patient, it's fine. If you're working from home, get in the habit of sending an assignment and then taking a real, serious break while you're waiting to hear back, rather than sitting on you comp. doing nothing. I often have a natural lull in work a couple of times a day because I'm waiting on someone else and I don't spend it sitting in front of my computer.

Things that could go either way:

1) Everyone on "your team" seeing your mistakes. This could really be normal or horrible. I don't know if you mean random people are added to the CC or if it's just on the same email chain as the entire team for another reason or what, or if someone is deliberately adding people on to tell them you fucked up. Generally, critical feedback in front of other people on your team is common and it's a busy-ness / timing thing as well as a coordination thing (everyone knows not to use that draft, you know not to do it again, everyone knows you've been informed/trained on the point so they don't have to do it, everyone knows the issue is being addressed). Berating someone in public or in front of others (or...ever) is different, it sucks and is not okay. If someone is like "This error was here, this can't go to the client like this, please pay attention to this." that is an industry thing. It's horrible and stressful when it happens (although you get used to it fairly quickly if it's genuinely reasonable feedback from someone who's generally respectful). On the other hand, if someone is like "This is horrible, how could you send this, I can't believe it, are you dumb?" that is toxic.

Blatant toxicity:

1) Shit-talking juniors in public. It sucks and should never be done.

2) The response to your ADHD. You probably should not have told her in this context but that's within range of normal junior "getting used to working" mistakes and she should not have responded that way.


All that said -- these kinds of industries can suck. Most workplaces are not like this, but most workplaces in certain fields (fast-paced, high-pressure) are like this.

Finally -- some of this is the pandemic as well as the job. Your life is kind of empty because basically no one can do some of the stuff that make this kind of job tolerable (spontaneous drinks with friends and such; going out when you can; things like that).
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:25 PM on February 18 [28 favorites]

Ever watch the Mad Men episode "The Suitcase?" I feel like everyone thinking of going into finance/consulting/law really should first.

Firms like this hire junior people like you to do the tedious painstaking infinitely time-consuming detail work so they can concentrate on higher-level strategy and/or bringing revenue into the company. Your job at a place like this is to meet and if possible anticipate their every professional need. You exist for their convenience, not vice versa. ("That's what the money is for!") That means that asking for them to do their work faster so you can leave when you want is going to be a total nonstarter, short of, like, needing to attend your mom's funeral. That also means that they're not going to be particularly worried about sparing your ego in giving feedback--if the work product went to a long list of email addresses, they're going to hit reply all for their response. They also actually really need your work to be as close as humanly possible to perfect, as that's what the clients expect. If you're going to endure this environment for much longer, you really need to adjust your mindset to accept all this. I know a lot of younger Millennials/Zoomers have genuinely never been in an environment where no one is at least professing to be deeply concerned about whether their environment is the one they work best in, etc., but...these places are not like that.

However, the degree of dickishness with which people in this scheme operate does vary, and it sounds like you're in a particularly bad situation. Lambasting is unnecessary. Telling you aren't fit for the industry if you're still finding your feet after three whole months is just stupid. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot you can do about it at your extremely junior level, assuming you want to stay in the profession in some capacity. Many many people leave these kinds of jobs, either to go to another place or to get into a different sort of company altogether (e.g., smaller). I think the average tenure for the first job of a Biglaw associate is barely three years. But you're going to need to be at around the 1.5-year mark before you can start applying, lest you look like a simple malcontent who doesn't want to work.

So you need to think about whether you see a future in this profession at all. (And whether you have any debt to pay that as a practical matter requires you to stick around.) Is there a path to going in-house, smaller places, etc.? Since you don't specify the profession, it's a little hard to advise you. If there is such a path, then is sticking it out until you are qualified for one of those jobs worth it?

You wouldn't be the first person to just walk away from a job like this, and you won't be the last. These jobs are well-paid because they are both hard and extremely stressful. You just need to figure out what you want from your line of work, then figure out how staying or leaving fits into that (again, that'll be somewhat profession-specific). In the meantime, do your best to keep them out of your head. It's not possible to do truly perfect work for two weeks. Anyone who tells you they didn't struggle when at your level is straight-up lying to you. You're not uniquely bad at this job, lazy, etc. You're just struggling to meet a standard that everyone finds hard to live up to, and which most people eventually give up trying to, once they've gotten what they need out of it. (BigLaw paid off a number getting alarmingly close to $200K of student loan debt for me and trained me in skills I now use causing trouble for BigLaw clients. I had a plan. Life happened, of course, but I got in and got out. That's what it's for.)
posted by praemunire at 1:31 PM on February 18 [17 favorites]

Or, just completely replace my answer with what praemunire said.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:33 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Deleted my entire comment upon reading Rock 'em Sock 'em on preview. They've got it.

Listen yeah, some of what you describe (mostly the hours and work patterns) really is just the price of admission to certain companies or industries, but it's okay not to like it and be stressed and overwhelmed by it, especially your first time out of the gate as a new grad!

A conclusion I arrived at about two years into professional ("professional") life: a lot of stuff at work sucks because working life, frequently, just sucks. Those of us who must work to support ourselves have no feasible way out of it, but that doesn't make you whiny or strange for really feeling how draining and unpleasant it is. You're not lazy or stupid or feckless, or else I doubt you'd have sat down to write your Ask.

Do keep looking for another job if you can, because I think you've seen enough at this place to know you don't want to live like this. You can jump back into the shark tank later if you realise that's what you really want.
posted by TinyChicken at 1:38 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

The other thing -- I realized that you probably didn't know what to expect here if you didn't train specifically for this industry. That had to be a huge shock. See if you can get hooked up with alums from your university or someone else you have a connection with in your industry (but not at your firm), ideally people who are 2-3 years further than you, and have coffee or chat and see what they say/think. They're the best resource for figuring out culture, what's appropriate/what's weird, what you can do next, etc.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:02 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I realized that you probably didn't know what to expect here if you didn't train specifically for this industry.

This is actually the bit I don't quite understand. I mean, no one can really prepare you for what it's like, but usually in order to land a job at one of these places you will have gone through an education where you come to understand informally what the broad strokes of the crazy expectations are; yet all this seems to have come as a shock (as it would to anyone unprepared). Maybe look on LinkedIn for someone from your school in the industry to talk to? Even the career services office at your school--they should be willing to talk to a recent graduate.
posted by praemunire at 2:08 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Most of this is not good or healthy, but they’re optimizing for speed, not for employee happiness or satisfaction. The reward for putting up with it is the money. Like someone said above, if you look around and think “all these people are assholes!” then the workplace probably requires you to become an asshole to succeed.

Metafilter has a large contingent of upper middle class users so largely a lot of people who have learned to navigate this system one way or another. The first rule is usually “don’t take it personally.” But if you’re worried that becoming better at this job will make you a worse human being, it’s a distinct possibility.

There are some things that will be true of every workplace but it’s an impossible task for a newbie to pick out which hazing is good hazing and which hazing is bad hazing.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:14 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

And yes, finding other allies who can be candid with you is a HUGE morale booster. The first time I heard someone gripe about our shitty boss it was an enormous weight lifted off of me. If all of a manager’s reports find that manager bad at managing, they probably are. Doesn’t mean you can do anything about it but you don’t have to blame yourself.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:16 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

This is actually the bit I don't quite understand. I mean, no one can really prepare you for what it's like, but usually in order to land a job at one of these places you will have gone through an education where you come to understand informally what the broad strokes of the crazy expectations are; yet all this seems to have come as a shock (as it would to anyone unprepared). Maybe look on LinkedIn for someone from your school in the industry to talk to? Even the career services office at your school--they should be willing to talk to a recent graduate.

I think the pandemic has really limited a lot of these kinds of informal information-sharing opportunities and has stretched career services thin.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:18 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

This sounds a lot like advertising. Honestly, some industries are just like this. That’s why burnout rate is high. They tend to attract the young because they are willing to work all hours for not much money but once people get older and have families and other priorities, they tend to drop out or get managed out because they’re not as willing to work all night or cop the abuse.

Everyone is right when they say it shouldn’t be like but unfortunately it is. You can push back but it’s very difficult for an individual to change an entire workplace culture and it’s ok to say that it just isn’t for you.
posted by Jubey at 2:23 PM on February 18

I should add, this comment is coming from someone who was told to postpone their wedding that was a month away so I could go shoot a commercial that weekend instead. Because the client took priority over everything.
posted by Jubey at 2:29 PM on February 18

Some, companies and sectors are intentionally structured to have work environments like this. If you work in professional services but don't understand how the business works, read this: The Consulting Business Model

> the most important factor the [professional services] firm must manage is its ratio of junior, mid-level, and senior staff members in the firm’s organisation. Maister calls this ratio the ‘leverage’ of the firm.
> The archetypical professional service firm consist of three levels. They’re often called ‘grinders’, ‘minders’, and ‘finders’. This is true for law firms (associate, junior partner, senior partner), management consultancies (junior consultant, manager, vice president), investment bankers (analyst, associate, vice president, director — though analysts don't really count) and so on.
> The ratio of junior, mid-level, and senior staff members make up the ‘shape’ of the firm — and the shape of the firm should be determined by the skill requirements of the work it does.
> The labour demands for each project are ordered in descending fashion: ‘Brain’ projects require experienced, senior staff, as nearly everything is custom-made for the client. ‘Grey Hair’ projects address problems that are more familiar, and thus provide some opportunity for delegation. ‘Procedure’ projects involve the highest proportion of junior time relative to senior time, and thus demand a completely different shape for firms that specialise in such projects.

> People do not join professional firms for jobs, but for careers. They have strong expectations of progressing through the organization at some pace agreed to (explicitly or implicitly) in advance.
> For any given rate of growth, a highly leveraged firm (one with a high ratio of juniors to seniors) will offer a lower probability of “making it” to the top, since there are many juniors seeking to rise and relatively few senior slots opening up. A less leveraged firm, at the same rate of growth, will need to “bring along” a higher percentage of its juniors, thus providing a greater promotion incentive
> if a firm doesn’t change its project mix, then to remain successful it must get rid of staff over time. There are limited slots the higher you go in the firm’s hierarchy. Since the firm cannot support a large number of middle-managers, and less still senior partners, most professional service firms use an ‘up-or-out policy’.
> You can, simply by looking at the shape of a professional service firm, predict what your career there is going to look like.

Rationales for adoption of Up or Out Promotion Policy for consulting / professional services businesses:

> keeping only those people with the potential to become partners is equivalent to retaining those with the greatest intelligence and skills, meaning a stronger and more productive workforce
> staff will work harder if they constantly are chasing the carrot of a potential partnership. By contrast, employees who become content with their current level in the consulting practice, by lacking this incentive to move ahead, theoretically may be prone to working less intensely. Thus, an "up or out" policy is one device to keep all employees constantly on their toes and exerting themselves at full speed
> a conscious desire to induce employee turnover, to hold down employee compensation costs. Since annual pay raises frequently are generous, maintaining a constant staff churn can be a means to shed high-cost employees and replace them with newer, lower-cost neophytes. Especially at the lower levels of the hierarchy, the supply of eager and competent young MBAs ensures a virtually limitless infusion of new blood, with little or no loss in organizational efficiency

Not all businesses or industry sectors operate like this. E.g. if you join a team that builds and maintains and grows some product that requires specialised skills and knowledge, there is a lot of incentive for your employer to keep you to stay for as many years as possible once you've become knowledgeable about the product, so they'll be incentivised to set up a sustainable work environment & try to keep you happy enough not to quit once you've gained a year or two of experience.
posted by are-coral-made at 3:02 PM on February 18 [10 favorites]

As a follow on to are-coral-made, the benefit for those that don't make it out of the junior ranks in the kind of firm described is that their experience means that they are in demand in both in-house roles and in more boutique firms that don't have a need for very junior staff.
posted by plonkee at 3:52 PM on February 18

I'm a junior person a few years ahead of you in what sounds like a similar field (consulting). I think rock em sock em's answer is exactly correct. I want to give some advice from that 3-4 years in perspective that posters above describe.

It is totally normal to feel like you've been given work you don't know how to do. I remember at my firm's orientation week, which had a few panels, it seemed like every speaker had a story like, "they told me to do this, and I was like, are you sure? I have no clue how, and I tried it anyway, and I learned a lot, and now I lead the project!" Feeling clueless and bad at your job at the beginning - especially if you're a high achieving kind of person who was previously killing it at school - is completely disorienting but also par for the course. Work is a lot different than school!

I highly recommend the advice to ask for a previous product or deck that you can use as a road map when starting a new task. If nothing else, you'll get the formatting right, and that can put you leagues ahead with your manager when she reviews your output - like, sure, she might have to rewrite all the takeaway points, but at least she won't have to do that AND also change the size and color of the bullet points. If this hasn't been drilled into your head yet, the formatting of the slides or document actually matters a lot. Taking the time to focus on getting this stuff right can be an easy win for you.

Chasing down feedback is also totally normal. Keep in mind that your senior associates have a ton more meetings than you do, and the only time they really have for deep focus of your products is after the work day - hence, why you're getting the feedback at 6:30. I second rock em sock em's advice - finish the draft, send it out, monitor your email for like five minutes, and then take a step away. If you turn it in at 3 pm, your associate is probably going to be in meetings until 5 (does your firm allow you to share calendars or see other's availability? Check their schedule yourself). Use those two hours to go grab a coffee, switch your laundry, run to the post office, make a nice snack, do a yoga video, etc.

Unfortunately, the addendum to this is that you'll make up that time after 6:30 when you finally get the feedback. This may be anathema to your notions of work life balance - but put your work email on your phone and turn on your notifications on nights when you're expecting feedback. Then you can go on with your evening/life until you get the message that your product has been reviewed and is ready for revision.

Finally, I also want to second the notion that this is all much worse because of the pandemic - none of the fun things that make the job bearable are happening right now (well, I assume the nice paycheck is still happening, but still). There are no happy hours or lunches out, which is a shame, because that's how I made most of my friends post-grad, through projects at my firm. Firms like these are a great place to make friends post-grad, because they're full of bright young unattached people like yourself. Hopefully that'll all come back by the end of the year, though!
posted by airplant at 4:21 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]

This question is an interesting study in life. You posted this question and all the answers withing say the first hour are telling you this is toxic, run like a scared bunny. The answers that came later, much later are saying while this may be a specific toxic situation, this is really typical of certain industries, professions, and roles.

Why the split in answers? I speculate that the early answers are from people who CAN respond quickly because of the industry they are in. The later answers, the ones that sound like they are coming from this industry did not have the time to answer much less read the question in real time.

This is about expectations, personality and a little less, talent. I come from the finance world, more specifically, trading. I have had clerks, newbies whose job it was to support me. During the trading day, I have no time to sit down and explain things. They are supposed to learn somewhat from observation. After the close, I will sit with them and explain anything they have to know, but I expect them to be prepared with questions. Then there are the times I will take them out for a drink or dinner. We can have a long free flowing discussion about trading, life, the Yankees, whatever.

It is a cliche, but when I first started working for a large Wall Street firm, if I left at say 6, there would always be the comments from fellow trainees or even upper level, "Leaving now? Half day?" It is just the nature of the beast and it is in some ways training. You soon learn that to get ahead you need to work real hard because there are many others working harder.

Right now, you are not a priority unless you screw up. What you want to do is become a priority through working hard and showing you can add value to the team. There is not a lot of room for nurturing. Figure it out. It is sort of like an average pro athlete. You can't perform, we will find someone else who will. Drag 'em off and bring in the next guy sort of attitude.

Going back to my earlier comment about having a clerk. I had a clerk who came to me before the market opened with a new idea. There was a new product that was going to be debuted that day that had never traded before. He had figured out an arbitrage. I gave him two minutes to explain it to me. I then agreed it sounded good and told him to put it on small.

Turns out his definition of small and mine were a little different. I had left right after the close to get to an afternoon Cubs game. Naturally I had had a few adult beverages. Right around the 8th inning I get a call from my clearing firm that I need to deposit $2 million in my account to cover the margin. I immediately called my clerk and screamed at him what had he done? He calmly told me and told me that he had researched the margins on the trade and that Goldman Sachs/SLK was wrong. Now I am half in the bag trying to decide between a person who had been in the business for 3 months and Goldman. Since I did not have the $2 million and since my clerk had built up good will, I called SLK back and started berating them that they were wrong. Long story short, they hang up with me and call me back 45 minutes later saying I am right. Turns out that my clerk also had to walk them through the arbitrage conversion process because he was the FIRST person to ever do this. It was so new that while the prospectus said you could tender, they did not think anyone would ever do it much less on the first day of trading. We ended up making a lot of money on this basic simple idea that he came up with. (I shared the profits with him.)

My point is that in many industries, it is sink or swim. Show some initiative. Take the bull by the horns. Make mistakes, but never make the same one twice. Learn the industry standards, protocols, jargon.

And, if you determine that this environment is not for you, that too is OKAY. Not everyone is a fit. Not everyone wants to trade comp for a life.
posted by AugustWest at 4:39 PM on February 18 [11 favorites]

In the longer term, it will get better. The first year is always hard as fuck at places like that, especially if your senior is an asshole or you tend to take criticism of your work personally. That said, competing firms may not be quite as nutso. Still long hours, perhaps, but not nearly as much frazzled hair pulling and punishing hours every single damn day.

My SO's first job after school involved working until 1-2AM, being berated at least weekly by her senior, who was completely unwilling to provide any guidance at all about what was actually wrong with the work. She ended up getting counseled out and making a move to a different firm, where she stayed for years and years quite happily.

The thing is that it turned out that the terrible experience wasn't a function of the particular industry, it was a function of a shitty team. Once she was the one making the decisions and advising the clients, super late days weren't so much of a thing. Occasionally, yes, but not every day for months on end. Long hours, sure, but not the nutso shit you're experiencing. I strongly suggest making a lateral move to another firm or office if at all possible because it sounds like you are in one of those particularly toxic situations.
posted by wierdo at 5:10 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Are you exempt from overtime? If not, what they're doing wrt your pay is illegal and you can absolutely, 100% find a workplace that does not participate in wage theft.
posted by augustimagination at 5:45 PM on February 18

Nthing that certain industries are simply going to be meat grinders - depending on the industry, you may have other options such as boutique firms or in-house roles. Even then, most likely you will need to put in your time and develop a certain level of competence before you can expect to be considered for those options. And depending on the industry, those other options may be just as tough albeit in different ways. I'm in the legal field, and have worked in all three environments: big firm, boutique, in-house. All of it was hectic. ALL of it. I'm now back at a big firm and very happy, but it was a long and painful journey of learning the ropes, growing a thick skin, and figuring out my priorities.

Being a junior is never going to be cushy. You have a steep learning curve and even in fields that require a specific degree, the schoolwork is never adequate preparation for what the actual work is like. You're going to be exhausted because you're absorbing so much new information, all the tasks that a senior associate could bang out in their sleep take you about ten times longer to do, and you have no support under you to help with the most tedious shit. All growth is uncomfortable. It will get better. I won't lie, it can take years to feel like you really know what you're doing, but if you put the work in you will get there. The work gets better too, as you gain exposure to higher level stuff it becomes much less tedious and more rewarding.

On the topic of small mistakes - "Small" is relative. Depending on how and where the mistake was made, the consequences may not be small. In certain types of work, there really is no such thing as a small mistake. A mistake could well be fatal to an application or filing, could cost the firm future opportunities with the client, and/or could cost the firm many hours to rectify and obliterate their margins for that engagement. That may be the reason for your manager's alarm, especially if those mistakes are happening often and repeatedly. They are in the business of making a buck, and they won't keep you if they can't justify your salary according to the value you provide to the firm. Of course they expect a certain number of goof-ups from new staff, but if you're not keeping up with other trainees, then that's probably it... it's not personal, it's just business.

On the topic of eating lunch in the office. A lot of people would prefer not to take a break because it'll mess with the flow of their day, or they have an appointment to get to later, or they want to go home to their families an hour sooner, or any myriad of reasons. It's not an unusual thing, and I wouldn't take it as being indicative of a toxic work culture.

On the topic of annoyed senior staff - When questions annoy me, it's because the asker: 1) didn't come prepared so I have to do a whole song and dance to figure out what they're trying to accomplish, 2) didn't do their own due diligence and research and expected me to do it for them, or 3) should've known better to direct that question to someone else instead of asking me just because it was more convenient for them. It could also be a sign of a toxic system - if your firm doesn't have adequate training for new staff, then they're setting you up for failure.

Your seniors are not ignoring you. They're busy with other priorities. Yes, chase them, but be wise about it. Make sure you're giving them enough time - if you send something to them a few hours before it's due and they're in meetings all afternoon, you're probably going to be SOL. If there's a deadline, include it with the feedback request - "Gentle reminder that this needs to go out by 5pm tomorrow per the client's request" or "Would be great if you could return your feedback by the end of the week so that I can flip it to X team by Y date for the quarterly meeting" and if it's already late in the day, "I will be away from the computer for the next 3 hours but will log back in later tonight. Please call if you need to reach me otherwise." That kind of context is greatly appreciated. I personally would NOT appreciate it if one of my clerks threw any shade my way about ignoring them or being slow to respond, or made a stink about chasing me for a response. That would not endear them to me, and the issue of their attitude would definitely come up in a lawyers meeting.

stoneandstar is right about the importance of allies. My best friend in law school is still my best friend today, and I wouldn't have survived my first few years of practice without her. It's great to have a mentor who can help you navigate, and give you sage advice and broader perspectives, but you also need a peer. Someone you can completely let your guard down with and not fear judgment from. That's hard in a pandemic, I would imagine that you're probably not all in the office together and forming in-person relationships. Everyone is also under an additional layer of stress these days, so try to view your colleague's grumpiness through that lens.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:59 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Echoing other commenters that while some aspects of your situation strike me as toxic, many points - evening work, lack of formal training, annoyed colleagues, direct and public feedback - are normal for intense workplaces. And this is coming from someone in a field with much kinder social dynamics - software development with a heavy side of operations at a unicorn. You could be in an unwinnable situation that you should extricate yourself from (if your manager is not prone to theatrical declarations, it doesn’t sound great); even then, there are moves that will preserve your career trajectory and others that will permanently trade off money, prestige, and intellectual challenge in a way that will be difficult to recover. Don’t let this experience rattle you into a premature decision.

One observation: ignoring clearly established cultural expectations (say, around same-day changes in response to feedback) is going to ruffle feathers and make you a target no matter where you are. Even if you consider the expectation ridiculous, and every human not employed by the firm agrees with you.
posted by dearlizadearliza at 6:42 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi everyone, thank you for all your comments so far. I think I was in for a rude awakening with regards to working life. I will work at readjusting my attitude. The traineeship will be only for a year - I am going to try to make the best of the situation, so that I can leave (whether it's by getting let go or naturally reaching the end of the training period) knowing that I've worked on projects that I am proud of, learnt skills in communication and project management with the added benefit of this shiny, shiny spot on my resume.

I don't actually know if this is something I want to do for the rest of my life - some of the work is appealing and I enjoy it very much, but like a poster said, I will have to to become my coworkers in order to really succeed in a place like this. I'm going to have a long hard think on what exactly I need in a career, and work to steer my current trajectory to that specific path.

It's all a lot to take in, and I'll be taking it up with my therapist as well. I'm sure I'll work it out, in some way or another.
posted by antihistameme at 9:49 PM on February 18 [13 favorites]

Sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders and are taking a good approach! The first 6mo-year at any job like this is really miserable no matter how you approach it, so I hope you're not being hard on yourself about that.

I don't actually know if this is something I want to do for the rest of my life - some of the work is appealing and I enjoy it very much, but like a poster said, I will have to to become my coworkers in order to really succeed in a place like this. I'm going to have a long hard think on what exactly I need in a career, and work to steer my current trajectory to that specific path.

Most big, prestigious industries like this have a lot of related off-shoot industries, where having experience in the industry is helpful but you're not actually "in" the industry, if that makes sense. Or there are smaller, less prestigious firms that do similar work that might have better work-life balance. So, if there are things you like about the work and the industry, that's a good sign and a good thing to build off of as you continue to plan your career. Good luck and I hope things improve for you and that you learn a ton!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:30 PM on February 19

Response by poster: I'd like to update everyone on the situation since I last posted.

I worked from 8am to 1am yesterday and wasn't able to eat anything other than two eggs because my manager was breathing down my neck chasing me for a project that the intern was in charge of but hadn't finished that was then lobbed to me to complete, on top of my other tasks.

After that, she sent me a message saying that she can tell that I'm trying, but it's not enough. Then she said that sometimes it's like I don't even understand English. After the report went out at 1am, I cried and howled in the shower and debated checking myself into a psych ward just to avoid work. I don't think this is right. I've lost 3kg since I started this job, and with my history of cancer, working like this is not sustainable.

They're asking me to work until midnight again today because the client who is in a different timezone wants the report at exactly midnight.

Unfortunately, even despite knowing that I need to prioritise my health over this job, I still have feelings of worthlessness and anxiety about leaving. My manager said that they "took a chance on me", and my underperformance is disappointing.

I've done the best I can, so I think it's in the best interest of my mental and physical health to leave. Also would like to highlight that the other trainee has put in her resignation after 4 months, if that gives yoy any clue about the working conditions at this place.
posted by antihistameme at 10:19 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Wow. That's horrible. I'm so sorry. Thank you for updating us, although I wish, for your sake, that it was a happier update. Please do prioritize your mental and physical health, and know that once you have more time and more contact with things and people who aren't related to this job at all, the (reasonable) feelings of anxiety and worthlessness will subside.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:45 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]

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