Misfortune of a fortunate job?
July 28, 2007 10:16 PM   Subscribe

Help analyze my terrible work situation!

I REALLY apologize for such a lengthy question, but it has been developing over some time now and I finally gave in to ask the great collective knowledge here..

I got a job in a department located in a fast-developing portion of my university's campus roughly a year ago. The position I was accepted for is basically a building IT guy-- fix computers, run cable, respond to general tech emergencies-- but I also was responsible for some general graphic design and print work. I work under a supervisor, manager, senior IT manager, event coordinator and a building coordinator.

So initially (up to 4 months) the job was great. I had great equipment to work on, the assignments I was given were right at my skill level, I had a great coworker who was hired at the same time as me, and there was just a nice collaborative vibe in the office. On random occasion when working with my higher ups, I'd be told that I could have a chance at a full time position after graduating, which encouraged me to really put 110% into my job.

So I'm working my butt off to please everyone in the office, doing random things like designing vibrant brochures to advertise our building, picking up the trash after large events, helping move furniture and boxes around, and I start to get a knack for graphic design. At some point one of my flyer designs catches the eye of people in other buildings who frequent the one I’m in. As a result, the event coordinator starts getting more requests to hold events in the building, and naturally I am asked to produce graphic media for nearly every event that is booked. So I did—and I was unstoppable because years of NOT doing this sort of work had built up a pile of creative ideas in my brain that would flood out into Adobe Illustrator. Did I mention I was still doing every other task the other higher ups assigned to me? How about cleaning up a room after an autoclave explodes?

Around this time I am at home one evening when I receive a call from my manager who had consulted with the building coordinator about offering me a full time position. I kindly declined because my first priority is school (I wouldn’t even be in this situation if it wasn’t). So life went on, and things kept going at a fast pace, until one day there’s a big announcement that most of the full time employees in the office are moving to another building as part of a multi-phase plan to create a central management point for the entire area of the campus where I work. Oddly enough, I’m told that I am also going to move and be given my own cubicle and filing cabinets and all things great about office jobs—keep in mind that I’m just a student employee who had been sharing a desk with a coworker.

Since I’ll be moving and the building still needs tech support, a new guy is hired who I will refer to as BG. The thing about BG is that he’s really eccentric, introverted, and he sorta smells like body odor, but I don’t worry because I’ll be moving to a new office in a week or two (or three or four). Well, the day before the official move was supposed to happen, the building coordinator announces that plans have changed and nobody is moving anywhere, but we’re still going to manage the surrounding area as well as the current building using all the current staff but the same office space (remember I was sharing a desk?). And this is where the trouble starts…

Since me and my coworker from the beginning are pretty cozy with each other, I figure that BG will be let go since he was hired on the assumption that he’d have an actual place to work when most people left. Nope. Turns out my boss has some policy where she considers student employees to be on a contract so the only time they’re let go is at the end of a term. At this point in time I’m bummed about not getting my own work area, but the office vibe is still good and I want to be welcoming to the new guy. I offer to share my machine with him since our shifts bump up against each other… possibly the worst idea I could have ever had. BG turns out to be incredibly messy and disorganized, and he apparently thinks its okay to leave pirated games, movies, and music on my work machine. I bring it to the attention of my supervisor who ends up not doing anything, so I tell the senior IT manager who doesn’t do anything, and then I tell the building coordinator who doesn’t do anything but tells my supervisor to do something, but he doesn’t do anything. I finally take it upon myself to pull BG into a private conference to tell him to not leave a mess and to not put “that” stuff on my machine.

Because we are the tech support guys, we occasionally get spare machines that aren’t new but still are fully functional, and BG gets one so that he can finally have his own computer to use. The machine isn’t working, so BG attempts to get it working, but fails and decides to leave it alone and just use the other guy’s machine. About a week later, the senior IT manager comes in asking if he can have my computer for a project he’s working on and offers to buy me a brand spanking new computer. I gladly oblige and get to configuring it the way I like, and my supervisor ends up ordering another one just like it for us to use. The computers come in after a few days and I’m giddy because I feel like I really earned mine and I could use the extra GHz/RAM for when I do graphic design. I begin to unpack mine when BG jumps out of his chair and begins unpacking the other box while mentioning “alright it’ll be great to not have to use this piece of crap anymore (referring to the spare machine that came in)”. I have an issue with this, but I’ll skip to the next chapter of the story and let you figure out what my problem is.

In my best efforts to remain professional in my behavior at work, I just deal with the fact that BG is probably staying around. I try talking to him to get some goodwill going, but he only gives quick responses to questions and never initiates conversation (he still hasn’t to this day). I continue on as the graphic design guy, doing whatever I need to so I can keep up the 110% effort, and things are going well. Somewhere around this time the senior IT manager and the building coordinator decided they’d do something for me and nominate me for an award, but they didn’t consult with me at ALL and failed to tell me that the nomination committee would be checking my GPA. I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I got a letter in the mail saying I failed to receive an award that I wasn’t aware of, and that my current GPA didn’t meet the requirements for said award that I was unaware of. Ever relapse into clinical depression? Not fun.

So forward on a month or two later and I get an offer to be sent off to a training seminar along with the event coordinator and my supervisor (not all at the same time). I get hyped up about going and book my flight and hotel and wait until the day to arrive. Well a few weeks before I’m supposed to go, I’m pulled aside by the senior IT manager who is relaying a message from the building coordinator that maybe I need to not go to training yet (I had gradually started burning out on graphic design and the BG situation wasn’t helping either, so I was still civil and sociable, but I was in a “bad week” mood). I had no choice but to cancel my trip and hotel and try to get myself back on track, although I’m not sure I was ever off?

Well, I hope I’m not alone in saying it doesn’t make me want to be a superstar employee when I keep receiving offers for really great opportunities, only to have them snatched back a few weeks later for no concrete reasons. Currently, I’ve just been working on some low-key work doing SQL and website development, and some occasional graphic design on the side. I feel fed up with my higher ups who I originally thought were great people, but now work feels like drama. I guess the popular thing as of late has been to treat me like an imbecile and ignore me whenever possible. (I honestly have NO idea why they’re doing this to me)

I suppose the good thing is that I picked up a lot of experience that I have been using to apply to other jobs at the university. Unfortunately, some of these jobs pay at a lower rate and offer less hours (the nice thing about my current work is that the pay is pretty well for part time and I can work up to part time max hours).

So my big question is, should I stay at my current job where I’m making decent pay and have top-of-the-line equipment to work on but have to deal with a stinky, eccentric coworker, unfaithful bosses, and more drama than daytime network television, or take on a new job where I could get a pay cut and less hours, but have a chance to start over in my work ethic when it comes to working at a university and hopefully know where to draw the line so I can stay as neutral as possible until I graduate school (not to mention it would be nice to get away from the people I work with now and [this is just horrible], but I think it would be really fun if they ended up trying to talk me into staying).

Also, any sort of analysis and criticism against me is appreciated. If I’m just acting like a jackass, then I need to know.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First of all you really need to work on being succinct. That was way too long for the information that was contained within. Basically what I got is that you don't dig your coworker because he has BO and he gets on your nerves because you had to share a desk and computer with him. You went on quite a campaign over some mp3s and games on the computer... big deal. The main thing seems to be you getting excited about things like awards and trips and more office space and the stuff doesnt come together. Well that stuff happens, its a university bureaucracy for you. This doesnt really sound like the work environment from hell to me; this kind of stuff is typical job stuff. We all have to get along with coworkers that bug us and management makes and breaks promises. You just have to not get your hopes up. It seems like you have too high expectations. Its hard to say, sometimes jobs just get crappy and maybe its time to move on. Just don't be overly sensitive about people taking your stapler a la Office Space, because that is going to bug you at every job if you let it.
posted by GleepGlop at 10:46 PM on July 28, 2007

Easy: new job. Start looking now, quit on good terms. Don't feel guilty.

It'll be gratifying to know they miss you, but leave it at that. A more genuine sense of pride will come when you're no longer working with and for ass cacti.

As far as the new opportunity is concerned, sounds like you have a confidence problem. You've established your rate of pay. Unless a major economic disaster happens, you should be able to find the same elsewhere.
posted by cior at 10:51 PM on July 28, 2007

you're unhappy with the situation and you are unlikely to get it to change. that leaves two options: suck it up or quit.

it's really that simple.
posted by krautland at 11:03 PM on July 28, 2007

First of all, you're in a pretty fluid situation. This means that at any time, something can change and you can be pushed out, or you can decide "screw it, I'm outta here." As with any other position, you should always be preparing to be able to leave the job. This means that you should:
- Build up a portfolio of the best pieces that you've done
- Figure out what your accomplishments and what you have learned on the job. Particularly anything you think might be pertinent in a future position.
- Find people that you have worked with that you can trust to give you a good reference in the future, and get contact information. Do these three things now so that you don't forget later on when it can be useful.
- But this also means that you need to document everything you think could come back to bite you in the a** later on. If you find out someone is downloading pirated music, programs, etc, notify someone and keep a note in your own private book that you did so. Any contact with the higher ups, write a note. But be discreet; if someone notices you keeping a journal they will become suspicious or even try to steal it. This sounds like a volatile enough situation that you never know when it could blow up. It probably never will. But if it does, you don't want to be the one that gets hung out to dry.

Now, as far as what happened? These types of situations are actually pretty common at work. Most people have been stuck with the co-worker that is impossible to work with, but who will probably never leave. And getting backstabbed by bosses is also common in many (but not all) companies. What you have to figure out is how much being miserable is worth. If you take a job with less pay, it'll hurt, but will you be able to go home after your shift and not have to take all night to wind down? Sometimes that's worth a pay cut.

You're someone who wants to get things done, and takes pride in doing so. Which means that you don't say no. In and of itself, it's a good quality. But it also sets you up. You have to learn to say "no" - sometimes creatively, sometimes directly - to certain requests. Even telling someone "I can get this done tomorrow or the next day" can take a load off of your back. If you commit yourself to too much work, the quality of everything you do will suffer, and you'll burn out quickly.
posted by azpenguin at 11:06 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds pretty great for a college job.

Sounds pretty normal for a normal job. The only "more drama than daytime network television" is coming from you. Holy cats! Look how long your story is! 1700+ words!

Go back through everything you wrote and distill each paragraph down to one sentence. If you do that I think you'll have a very good grip on what your exact problems are.

This felt pretty cathartic to write. I think if you go back through it you'll find that you probably feel better just for venting your frustrations.
posted by Ookseer at 11:14 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Higher-ups" work for their bosses, but they also work for you. Tell them how they can help you, and expect that they will. In fact, treat them like they do work for you, in the sense that if they say they will do something, you follow up in a day or two and ask how that's going. Being a boss is not just telling people what to do, it's also making them able and preferably, enthusiastic about doing a good job.

If you stay, can you kind of create the atmosphere that BG, as a new guy, is junior to you? I mean, can you take charge of the group, make a daily or weekly work list, and assign him out of the building a good portion of the day? If he's on another shift, can you leave him enough to do that he has to do it instead of screwing around with the work machine? Just a thought.

By the way, it was bogus of them to mention to you that you didn't qualify for the award. It was, however, pretty good of them to nominate you in the first place (albeit without doing their homework on the prereq's). They should have made up their own award, even a cheesy department head letter of commendation or something.

Criticism part:
Now I'm imagining I'm one of your bosses. I got you:
1) More help (that you don't like him is your problem)
2) New computers
3) An office for everybody, almost, and they're probably still scheming how to get that
4) good pay and plenty of hours
5) work you like to do for at least part of your time
So WTF is your problem?

Keep in mind this: it's easy to be a good worker when it's fun. Anyone can do that. If you fall apart when it isn't so fun, you're unlikely to find any of those other jobs any better. Every job sucks sometimes, for one reason or another.
posted by ctmf at 11:19 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

It seems pretty clear to me: get some good references from your bosses, and find another job. It's a bad work environment with clueless management. Having "top of the line equipment to work with" would probably rank near the bottom of my concerns.

It's also kind of clear that you don't have a lot of work experience: bad bosses are quite common. Bad coworkers are quite common (those without social graces tend to be more common in the IT field). Loyalty isn't necessarily a good trait if unrewarded; in some cases, your extra effort may become expected, not valued.

You also should work on being more terse: in a business setting, no one would have bothered to read your question. You could have deleted everything but the last paragraph (starting with "But my big question is...") and lost a lot of filler.
posted by meowzilla at 11:25 PM on July 28, 2007

Get a new job. More experience in different working environments will help you a lot and give you confidence in dealing with office politics and eccentric personalities. And more resources for networking and references will only help you when you are ready to look for full time work.

But don't take a pay cut. No new employer would expect you to.
posted by happyturtle at 2:03 AM on July 29, 2007

I agree that this does, unfortunately, not sound that uncommon, but that does not mean that you have to accept it. If you cannot find a way to change the current situation you should find another job. This is the perfect time to do that since you do not have really big things (like a family to support) to worry about. More diverse work experience is always a good thing in my opinion. It will help you figure out what you find really important and what ultimately does not matter that much.
posted by davar at 3:12 AM on July 29, 2007

"More drama than daytime television"? You're not being treated any differently than the rest of the folks you work with; you're just experiencing very normal disappointments for a workplace. And yet somehow that merits paragraph upon paragraph of prose. Sweetie, THAT'S drama.
posted by desjardins at 4:55 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Consider yourself lucky that you're getting exposed to this type of work life before you graduate. This sort of thing isn't "terrible" it is work. It happens in every office. If you don't like dealing with it, start studying sometihng that involves you working alone.
posted by k8t at 6:06 AM on July 29, 2007

Every workplace has one guy who doesn't shoulder his burden, workwise or social-wise, who can't seem to get fired. BG is yours. It seems like college/university departments have an even higher proportion of these sorts of twits than the general populace.

Get a new job.
posted by notsnot at 6:45 AM on July 29, 2007

when it comes to working at a university

I've worked and had friends work in a University setting. What you describe sounds like paradise in that your bosses are actively ignoring or putting you down while you put out great work.

University work environments are notoriously petty, drama and politics driven places. Suck it up till you graduate, you're getting more real world experience then you can imagine.

Also, the length of your post was fine. Better to leave in to much detail than not enough.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:56 AM on July 29, 2007

Agree with Mr. Blatcher. University work environments are like this, often. People (esp managers) get promoted above their level of competence and then they stay for years and years. Either try to see the humor in it and take it as an opportunity to work on your diplomacy skills and read some Machiavelli (I am kind of joking about that, kind of not..!), or decide it's not worth it and find a healthier work environment.

You are probably doing way more than they expected and they really want you to stay, but their approach to this is to put out carrots and then take them back when they realize that policy + precedent + hierarchy stops them from doing too much for a student employee..
posted by citron at 9:27 AM on July 29, 2007

You need to be more assertive. Of course your coworker is still using your computer, you offered to let him use it. Tell him that you won't be able to share the computer with him anymore.

They have you doing IT, graphic design, and janitorial work. As they add more graphic design, it's time to explain that you won't have time to do the cleaning up anymore, and get them to change your title along with a raise.
posted by yohko at 10:31 AM on July 29, 2007

N-thing the university work = bad environment. Lucky for you, this is probably the most dysfunctional environment you are ever going to work in. It doesn't get much worse than university work. The lesson I hope you've learned is to work alone and never let your guard down in this shark-like environment. I work in a similar position and insist on working alone expect for occasional tack-specific work I contract out.
posted by melissam at 10:38 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

You rejected a full-time job because school is your priority, but you didn't have a sufficient GPA to be eligible for a work award?
posted by caitlinb at 10:44 AM on July 29, 2007

Advice for future jobs: Quit taking on work and all the other effort of trying to please you boss. Or at least notch it down by 90%. The way you described yourself is not an eager go-getter, it's an apple-polisher. And guys like that get abused hard and heavy in the workplace.

When you're just entering the adult workforce it can be difficult to know where the line is drawn. Experience will show you, if you keep your eye out for it. But to give you a hint, it's not on the side of Giving it Away for Free.

As you said, school is the most important thing for you right now. So quit investing so much in this job. You could do 25% of what you're doing, fret about it 99% less and still get a glowing recommendation from these folks when you graduate. Let it go. You'll be out of this job and away from these guys in a few short years.

Contrarily I'll put this out there too: Do you need to stay in school? I didn't catch what year you are or what degree you're working for, but if it's in the same field, have you considered just taking the full time gig and then spinning that into a non-university job in a couple years? It has been my experience, especially in technology, that a degree is just to get you your foot in the door, after that, no one cares. Your foot is well in the door.
posted by Ookseer at 12:10 PM on July 29, 2007

N-thing Blatcher - welcome to university life!!! Working at a university is the best management class you will ever take. Instead of bitching about the experience, use this as an opportunity to determine what kind of manager and employee you'd like to be.

You're an undergrad student (presumably a work-study). You are the lowest of the low in terms of the academic job hierarchy. Not trying to be mean, just telling you like it is, since this may also help explain why people aren't responding to you the way you want them to.

You are so freaking lucky to have people that think you're doing a great job and want to nominate you for awards and send you for training. It sucks that it blew up in your face (I never knew I was nominated for stuff until after the fact too), but it means that your managers really believe in your talent and want to cultivate it. Getting mad at them when it doesn't completely work out is futile, you're at the point in your career when a lot of stuff isn't going to work out and you just have to deal. Heck, this will happen a lot throughout your career. You have to find the joy in the little things, like the fact that they think you deserved that award or that so many people want to take advantage of your graphic design expertise.

Don't get all riled up about everything - you're probably being treated like this because you're creating this unnecessary drama (yes, I said it. sure there is drama in the canceling of things, but your "higher-ups" have enough going on that they don't need to hear you complain about a fellow student worker).

Cut your bosses a little slack, there are a lot of times that managers think they can offer/do something, only to have some politics come into play and find out that they can't.

Workplace drama exists everywhere. If it isn't this, it will be something else. And trust me, it will get a lot worse than this as you progress in your career. You need to get over this and yourself.

To answer your question, there is no guarantee that a new job will be any better. If you really think it will help, take a new one. However, you can do some of those things in your current position (work ethic, becoming neutral). You don't need a new job for that, especially one that would pay less and give you less hours.
posted by ml98tu at 1:50 PM on July 29, 2007

What do you think about Ookseer's advice? To me, it sounds about right. I think you could worry a little less about pleasing them and about getting their approval -- it sounds like you're doing a great job.
posted by salvia at 4:59 PM on July 29, 2007

Even outside the university setting, that's pretty run-of-the-mill for a "meh" job. It's definitely not a worst-case scenario, _by far_, but there's really nothing to keep you there, from what it sounds like.

Plus, in all honesty, there's a _lot_ to be said for leaving your undergrad/grad situation once you've gotten out of school. Seriously...wouldn't you rather try and do the same sort of thing, somewhere totally different, just to know? You'll have the same level of drama at the next place, probably, but still...you'll have a lot more perspective, at that point. Just get out.
posted by LairBob at 7:34 PM on July 29, 2007

I'd like to second everyone who's saying that it seems as if the drama is, at least partially, yours.

Life is full of obnoxious people. Work is full of flakes and people who don't do what they say.

You need to be like a reed in the wind. Let the stresses wash off like water off the back of a duck.

Don't take it so personally.

You have a job at the bottom of a rigid hierarchy. Welcome to the real world.
posted by MythMaker at 11:08 PM on July 29, 2007

Only one intolerable workmate? And management, who, though spineless, are at least willing to talk to you civilly? And you're getting new equipment?

Seriously, having worked in an academic environment, you've got gold. Yes, it's a learning curve, having to deal with workmates you can't stand. Yes, it's a disappointment to have management renege on promises. But, y'know ... there are worse things. Maximally flexible hours, good pay, nonabusive work environment, a portion of work that is actualy interesting and potentially relavent to my career ... I would have killed for a job like that, as would have most of my peers.

No drama. Learn to cope with minor inconvieniences.
posted by ysabet at 5:21 PM on July 30, 2007

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