breaking point; or, frying pan to fire
March 19, 2021 7:40 AM   Subscribe

I started a new job in December after escaping a toxic one. Now it seems that the new company is toxic in its own way, and I am reaching a breaking point. I need help processing my options, as well as dealing with my own personal humiliation that I am likely going to end up walking away from the second job in a row.

Please refer to my question "how to bring up a work concern diplomatically" and my responses in the comments for some context.

Bottom line is: my workload here is untenable and unrealistic. The volume of accounting entries I have to do on a manual basis far exceeds what my predecessor was doing (I looked at the reporting from last year to confirm). While it's good for this company (a nonprofit) to have business booming like this, the volume of work is not possible during an 8 hour day, and I am salaried non-exempt, which means I am entitled to overtime. I have been working 10 hour days to try to keep my head above water. This past Tuesday, I worked 12 hours. I have been told that I cannot work OT anymore.

I have been advocating for myself, politely, with my manager, keeping her in the loop about where I stand with my workload, and explaining, using examples, of why I am perpetually 1-2 days behind in my work. The accounting software system we use is cumbersome and the process for entering even one journal entry is time-intensive. Having to enter 150+ a day (last Friday I had 275 entries to do) one-by-one feels like water torture. (I obviously have not used this verbiage with my manager.) I barely have time to cover my other duties, and I'm also supposed to be the backup for the receptionist on the phones for when she's away from her desk or on another call, which pulls me out of my work and can be especially disruptive on busy days. Also, there is a woman in the office next door who keeps making dogwhistly racist comments around me (I am the only POC in this entire company and she thinks I was a "diversity" hire), and if I am unable to get to the phone while the receiptionist is on another call (this happens very rarely, maybe once every three days), the phone rings through to her. Dogwhistle Karen comes and gives me shit every time she has to answer a call. Yesterday, the receptionist was on a call, I was on the phone responding to another call, and Dogwhistle Karen had to pick up a third call, and she actually came into this office to bark at me for not answering the phone WHILE I WAS ALREADY ON THE PHONE.

My dotted line manager, who yelled at me in a meeting two weeks ago for being behind (even though I was not set up to WFH and we had 5 office closures in February due to inclement weather, which effectively lost me a full work week), gave me a perfunctory apology and has now started just making passive aggressive comments to me about the speed at which I work, even though he is aware that I am handling twice the volume of my predecessor in this role. I type at 100 WPM, and 9550 KPH on a 10-key, which is well above the average for someone in an accounting position like mine. My speed is not the problem here.

The passive aggression is rubbing me the wrong way. He is resentful that the volume of work takes me so long that he cannot delegate more tasks to me to free himself up to do the more complicated financial reporting he has been promoted to do. I sympathize with his frustration but I literally cannot do anything about it. My manager agrees that dotted line manager was unfair to me in that meeting and claims she spoke to him about it, but I have no way to confirm, and in the meantime he's being super passive aggressive. To top it all off, he is only in the office two days a week due to child care issues with his ex-wife. I am also sympathetic to this - my partner and I have been juggling child care with his ex and it is definitely more complicated with kids having to do Zoom school, but we are muddling through, and I have not let it affect my attendance in the office. The repercussions of dotted line manager only being around 2 days a week (he WFH the rest of the week but is basically impossible to reach when he's at home, he doesn't answer his phone or respond to emails) is that he hasn't even been able to fully train me and then gets mad when I make errors about things he hasn't trained me to do. My manager keeps saying that by the end of May we will be getting a software upgrade that will eliminate my need to enter these transactions manually one-by-one, but I cannot be in perpetual stress zone for three more months.

Manager brought in a temp finally this week to help me with the workload. Temp is nice and works hard, but she knows nothing about the software program. Dotted line manager gave her a brief overview of the program on her first day and has since been locked in his office (when he's on site) working on his own work. I have been left to effectively train this temp, WHICH DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF BRINGING HER IN TO HELP WITH MY WORKLOAD AS NOW I AM SPENDING 2 HOURS A DAY TRAINING HER.

On the plus side, the receptionist has stepped up and stopped bugging me 300x a day and we are pretty friendly now. She has received almost no training either and we are both frustrated.

Forget frustrated, I am at my wit's end. My manager, though she did take action to help me by bringing in the temp, now doesn't even acknowledge me when she comes in in the morning - she says hello to the receptionist and then walks away. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I just think this is kind of rude at best and passive aggressive at worst (she might be mad that the company has to pay for the temp).

The thing is, I took this job even though I was wary of working for a nonprofit (I have never done so prior to this in my career and have heard nightmarish stories of mismanagement from friends of mine who are career non-profit employees), and even though this is nearly a $30K paycut from my last full-time job that I had pre-COVID, because they offer an amazing benefits package. I have been fielding many calls from recruiters (my skillset is in demand in this area) and tentatively exploring other job opportunities this way, but every job I am presented by a recruiter is a contract-to-hire situation, not a direct hire, which means that if I accepted one of these contract-to-hire positions just to get me the hell away from the misery of this job, I'd be losing my bennies until (or if) the new company decides to hire me full time.

On the plus side, all of these contract-to-hire positions pay significantly more per hour than what make here.

It seems foolish to walk away from a permanent job for a job with no guarantee of becoming permanent, but I absolutely dread coming here every day, I get majorly depressed on Sunday afternoons thinking about Monday morning, and I am fucking sick and tired of being blamed for not keeping up with a workload from a dotted line manager who is never here and hasn't fully trained me, and being ignored by my actual manager, who seems to have washed her hands of me ever since hiring the temp to "help" me and leaving me here to train her (with my incomplete training). Not to mention Dogwhistle Karen and her fixation on my inability to handle two phone calls at once. And her dogwhistle comments about people from my part of the world. (Another example: yesterday I brought pasta with pesto sauce for lunch. Dogwhistle Karen, who sits at least 20 feet from me and behind a wall, comes bursting into my work area saying that my food stinks and that it's inconsiderate to bring CURRY in to work when some people are sensitive to spices, and I should learn the different between me "home" food and food that's "appropriate" for work. I WAS EATING PASTA WITH PESTO, NOT CURRY. She assume I was eating curry because I am brown. Though I don't know how one mixes up the smell of basil and oregano with the smell of curry spices, but whatever. Also, I never eat curry because it upsets my stomach, which in turn gives my dad sadfeels.)

I HAVE to get out of here. But is it stupid to leave a perm job for a contract-to-perm job and walk away from good benefits? And also, how can I deal with the feeling of humiliation and failure from having to flee two toxic jobs in a row? I feel like my judgement is impaired and I should have seen red flags earlier but I didn't, and I took both toxic jobs bc I was laid off for COVID reasons last year and wanted an income, so maybe I was just blinded by the prospect of an income vs UI. I feel stupid and ashamed. I also have started wishing they'd just fire me so I can go back on UI and figure out my next steps, which I recognize is insane and desperate thinking.

Please help me figure out what to do?
posted by nayantara to Work & Money (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You should not be ashamed about walking away from toxic jobs. The shame is theirs. The ability to walk away is a sign of strength and self-respect.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2021 [41 favorites]

Best answer: If you can't work overtime, you can't work overtime. If you truly don't mind being fired, then (kindly) stop giving a shit about everyone being shitty to you.

Do your job, but only exactly during regular work hours. Take breaks. If you have to answer the phone, then get interrupted. If you have to train the temp, then train the temp. Let the accounting input suffer. In short: be normal, don't try to break your ass to beat the previous worker's numbers. There is genuinely no point. Let yourself have a healthy detachment between the work that you're doing for money and your real life.

Your manager ignores you? Who cares. This is only a problem if you want to work here the rest of your life, which you don't.
Your dotted line manager is a passive aggressive shithead? Who cares. This is only a problem if you want to work here the rest of your life, which you don't.
Your coworker is racist trash? Call her on it. "This is basil pesto, it's really quite good. Why did you think it was curry?" Let her move out of the safe world of dog whistling into full on shaking a bag of pupperoni if she feels so compelled to comment. Allow her to fully out herself as a racist, and document it.

But genuinely, for this and for every job you ever have in the future, my biggest hope for you is that you figure out a way to close your computer at 5 and turn off your work brain. This is something I had to learn to do, and only part of it was getting out of a toxic work environment. You have to teach yourself to stop. I'm lucky enough now to have a job I like at a company that I like with coworkers I like, and I still make a conscious effort every day to completely unplug from it when the day is done. I don't get paid to care at 5:01.
posted by phunniemee at 8:05 AM on March 19, 2021 [64 favorites]

I'd suggest trying very hard to set boundaries around your time, as phunniemee suggests. If they won't give you OT, work 8 hours a day. If the work isn't getting done, it's their fault for not hiring staff commensurate with the workload.

I think they may be hesitant to fire you, given that instead of you getting some of the work done, they'd have nobody, getting none of the work done. But if they do, well, you'll probably be glad to see the last of that place.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:18 AM on March 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

(Though, to add to my thought above: not leaving a toxic job does not mean you lack strength or self-respect. Sometimes it just means you've got bills to pay. Self-respect is great, but you can't eat it.)
posted by jacquilynne at 8:18 AM on March 19, 2021 [19 favorites]

While it’s easy to say: “You need to just not care,” for many of us, it’s just not possible to flick that mental switch - it certainly wouldn’t be for me, so you have my sympathy.

Also: Fuck racist curry woman.

If your skills are in demand, it sounds like you have a good chance of getting made permanent at one of these contract to hire jobs, with the advantage that you’ll have the chance to check out the new organisations during the contract period and find one with a decent working culture before you commit to a permanent role.

If you’re worried about what this might look like on your CV down the line - just put it down as a short-term role. It’s not unusual to have a few of those at times in our careers, and especially in 2020/21 I think people are going to not bat an eyelid at what you might have had to do to keep body and soul together.

I’d fix up a new job with one of those headhunters, leave at the earliest opportunity, and take huge pleasure in leaving racist dog whistle woman to answer all the feckin’ overspill phone calls on her own.
posted by penguin pie at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2021 [9 favorites]

It sounds to me like the benefits are the only thing keeping you at this job, and I think you’re overvaluing them. Benefits are worthless if you don’t use them. At my old job, I negotiated for extra vacation time, but then they wouldn’t approve my requests for time off. So did I actually have extra vacation time? Likewise, what good is health insurance if you’re working so much that you don’t have time to see a doctor? You can do COBRA until you get insurance at a new job. Having a 401k is cool, but if you’re nearing retirement age, taking a couple of months off from saving won’t make a difference, and if you’re not nearing retirement age, those couple months would be made up for by a higher salary later. Aside from insurance coverage (again, COBRA), I can’t think of any benefits that couldn’t be offset by more money and/or more free time.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:29 AM on March 19, 2021 [9 favorites]

I have been working for more than 40 years, and have worked in a lot of different jobs. I have never once regretted leaving a toxic workplace, but I have regretted staying in them as long as I did.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:33 AM on March 19, 2021 [22 favorites]

Best answer: By all means, quit. And contract-to-hire is a great way to get a sense of what a company culture is like without committing.

But I don't think it is helpful to your mental health to frame this job as toxic, and thus you as a two-time toxic bailout. It's a shitty work environment with a racist co-worker and crap pay. OF COURSE you're leaving! That's a win not a failure.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:37 AM on March 19, 2021 [9 favorites]

But don't just 'walk away' from a bad job. All jobs have their pluses and minuses. The smart thing is to line up a new job before quitting. Slack off as much as possible and devote all your energies to the job search.
posted by Rash at 8:40 AM on March 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Leaving a job is not personal humiliation. Making decisions that prioritize your life over some rando job is good and right and what you ought to do, don't let capitalism define this as a failure of some kind.

Go find a new job and get the hell out of there. This problem is not fixable by you. Go ACA for now for benefits if you have to, or pay COBRA with your better higher-paying job.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:51 AM on March 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This boyfriend sounds horrible and harmful. Dump the motherfucker already!

Oh I mean, this work environment is abusive, definitely pursue the other opportunities. (Same thing, really!)

Lots of jobs are toxic, because capitalism, and more so for pocs and women and queer ppl because kyriarchy. It’s actually a sign of your emotional health that you spot it and move on- no shame- it’s a point of pride!

And see if you can negotiate a faster route to salary or temp benefits or a raise. You sound like a great employee and if there’s a recruiter looking at you they probably have some negotiating room.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:58 AM on March 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: But is it stupid to leave a perm job for a contract-to-perm job and walk away from good benefits?

I'm going to just focus on the cost/benefit side for a minute here. I would look for the highest possible paying contract-to-permanent contract, because you will need to a) save some of that money against the possibility that the contract doesn't renew -- there's a reason it's not permanent off the bat which can be just about fit but can also mean that business/position isn't stable -- and b), this is the critical question, what kind of benefits can you purchase with that hourly rate.

Because $30k more/year, even post-tax, should up benefits quite a bit, if that's the market rate for your skills. See how close you can get to meeting your current needs even if it's a bit less for retirement or there are benefits you're not currently using (STD, LTD, life insurance, medical things you aren't doing right now like physio, etc.)

If the math works out as "I can opt into a different insurance that covers what I currently need, including emergencies and save money and if I don't need that money short term, put it into retirement" -- you will come out ahead anyway.

And also, how can I deal with the feeling of humiliation and failure from having to flee two toxic jobs in a row?

You know what's funny? I can't think of the last time I saw a question that was like "How do CEOs cope with the humiliation and failure of paying low wages and having to lay people off?" "How do managers cope with the understanding that overloading their workers causes them to leave?"

Why are those feelings all on your side?

How do you "deal with" leaving two jobs in a row? You congratulate yourself on prioritizing a good life over loyalty to an organization that isn't earning it.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:01 AM on March 19, 2021 [25 favorites]

Best answer: The only people who should feel humiliated are your manager, dotted-line manager and racist coworker. The humiliation is theirs! They drove away a committed employee who does amazing work and wants to contribute.

There is no world in which you should feel any humiliation in this situation.
posted by mcduff at 9:10 AM on March 19, 2021 [6 favorites]

racist woman is an asshole, but there's no law that says you need to absorb that stuff quietly. Better to respond out loud. "You think this pesto is curry? So you're racist AND know nothing about food?"

That said, if your skills are in demand, it's probably fine to leave. It's fine to tell your next job, if they ask about why you left this one, that it wasn't a good fit because they had only one role budgeted but two people's worth of work to do. To me that's the big disqualifier in the job you're in. Racist woman, again, asshole, but if it were otherwise a great job, you wouldn't let her rudeness chase you off.

Temp to hire isn't the end of the world; as you see, it can be very beneficial to have a mutual evaluation period before committing to a job. But make sure of the COBRA coverage -- it can be very expensive.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:14 AM on March 19, 2021

+1 to phunniemee’s advice about the various boundaries you can have at work, especially how people are treating you.

Just because your coworkers are serving you shit doesn’t mean you have to eat it. You still have to smell it (hear it), which is awful, but you’ve been internalizing their complaints as though they are true and valid, and you don’t have to!

You have plenty of experience in your industry to have a sense of what you can do and what your time is worth. Try to scale back your self-expectations and do the work they are paying you for. Stop working like you’re trying to get promoted. If you have 250 records to enter, and you think your max is 150/day, set a goal to enter 135, and if after you’ve dealt with interruptions and taking your breaks, you can’t exceeds your goal, cool, but stop breaking your back to make up for your company’s bad business decisions. You’re not hired to fix their management issues, and you’re not getting paid to.

When you have some downtime, maybe on those Sunday afternoons where you’re stressed about Monday, sit down and go over your budget to see how bad/manageable things would be if your job got hit by a bus. For me, this is often calming to my stress levels, and I find that I could survive ok for the 60 days it might take me to get a new job. With that comfort, it makes it easier to push back at exploitative demands (in a professional manner)

- your coworkers are unreliable narrators of your reality
- try to imagine what kind of person could live up to their work-expectations. Would that person take the pay they are offering? Or tolerate the crummy culture?
- the demands being placed on you are unreasonable, and you don’t have to pretend they’re not.
- treating your job like part of your identity (and therefore worth emotionally investing in) is a bad habit. You can break it, but it takes time/practice. Start practicing!
posted by itesser at 9:42 AM on March 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm in the same boat at a software startup with a fool ass manager and a new guy who thinks he's in charge of everything. I'll be gone in July 2nd and later on I'll be in Canada in August.

People here advised me to do the bare minimum, take the money and leave. This new person is a pain in the ass, but once again, people told me he'll be gone faster than I will at this rate. The guy is out of his mind, he doesn't want to work with anybody but he wants everyone to answer to him. His latest "ploy" is to conduct secret meetings without my boss being involved.

He's stupid enough to tell me this, as well as leaving it in writing.

In short I agree with the other people, detach yourself. This imbecile I work with is his own worst enemy. He will sink himself on his own without me doing anything. Most people are like that.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 10:35 AM on March 19, 2021

I agree with the above that it's ok to detach yourself and ok to quit. If you do stay, here is how I would handle the racist co-worker and any hostility from your dotted-line boss: recap every conversation in an email "to be sure I understand." CC your manager and HR (if you have HR). Make them confront what they're doing and create documentation.
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:37 AM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This job doesn't need to be "toxic" to justify wanting to or actually leaving. I feel like we get wrapped up in a narrative that if we aren't being flogged mercilessly, we should stick it out. We should be grateful to even have a job. But it's been like four months and you are not being adequately supported in your work and you are not being set up to succeed at it, either. If you can afford to leave this job, by finding another which will hopefully compensate you well enough to cover at least part of the lost benefits, then I think you should. I doubt that things are going to be better in May. (As a non-profit vet, I doubt that software upgrade is even coming in May.)

Interviewing is like the first few dates -- everyone's on their best behavior and there's not always going to be a red carpet full of red flags at the door and it may take a few tries to find a place that want to stick with long term. A lot of your thinking and decision-making sounds anxiety driven. I'm wondering if you got into a stable contract to perm job, even if that job itself did not go perm, you'd get some breathing room that would help you be able to better evaluate your next move.
posted by sm1tten at 11:59 AM on March 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

While you stick it out express yourself clearly. You can do 175 entries in 8 hours and you know this. This is what they should expect of you, no more and no less. If you have to work two hours on training the newbie, then that number goes down. Explain this. Be dispassionate.

It won't fix the problem, no doubt, but you have a line to hold now. You did the work that fits in the time. You did not do all the work because there is evidently too much of it, which you have previously explained.

Whether or not you choose to leave, this is really the only thing that can improve this aspect of this job - everyone being clear on what you can and cannot do for the money they are paying you. If they want more then there are a number of solutions, and none of them are you compensating for their bad planning by working for free.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 4:04 PM on March 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just wanted to add my support, and to say that EVERYONE who has spent some time in the workforce, except the supremely lucky, has had the misfortune of ending up in a toxic workplace. Most of the companies I've worked for have been more dysfunctional than not. There is no shame or failure in this. Everyone understands.

I think you'll gain a lot of power back by leaving for a job with a higher salary, even if it's not permanent. The extra money can buy some benefits as pointed out above. Right now you're in a permanent job that you don't even want to be permanent... do you? You don't still want to be stuck there in a year! At least a job at a not-crappy employer, even if only temporary to start, has a good chance of becoming permanent.
posted by keep it under cover at 6:38 PM on March 19, 2021

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