Trained psychotherapist and resident advice guru Ms X on shitty jobs and the fine art of knowing when to walk away.
Hi Ms X,
I’ve been working in a new job for about 10 months now. It’s my first one out of uni and when I started it was quite enjoyable. The woman who hired me told me that it’s a great job that I’d probably be in for a couple of years and then move on, but for now it’s a stepping stone.
The stepping stone appears to have been one of those false ones from video games that disappears the second you stand on it because I now feel completely out of my depth. It turns out the job is super stressful with a very high turnover and despite the hirer’s faith in me it’s been a mission to feel moderately successful from the get go. Added to this is a company culture that has left me feeling isolated and my own anxiety; it’s not uncommon for me to cry at work, sometimes multiple times in a day.
I want to leave but I have been told if I stay here less than a year my name will be mud, and my boss is going to take an extended period of leave soon so we’re under strain. I also work on projects that won’t be realised for some time so anything I start now I won’t see through to completion.
I feel like the job was misrepresented to me, and I can see all my friends getting new jobs that they love and I just want to leave. But I can’t shake the feeling I’m being irresponsible and selfish. Should I leave?
Help me or hire me. I don’t mind either way at this point.
A Drowning Millennial.
I am really feeling your pain here. Those jobs that feel like they are shortening your lifespan are a very hard sell unless they involve solving climate change or saving actual lives. Working someplace where you are crying everyday doesn’t exactly make you want to constantly post to Instagram that you are #blessed!
I will give you some practical suggestions and also some mental health ones because it feels like what is happening has propelled you into a low mood state or depression.
As inconvenient as tears are in a workplace environment (I wish we were better with tears, but they tend to freak New Zealanders the fuck out) they are telling you something and I don’t need my expensive education to interpret the message. You are feeling overwhelmed and miserable. But it’s a useful message, even if it destroys your eyeliner: Your tears are your emotions’ way of reminding you to sort this shit out. Now.
I’d like you to have a talk to your GP about how you are feeling. They may suggest some medication for depression or anxiety and that could help you get through the decision-making process. I have linked to this article in another column about low level depression and I am told it is very useful.
Onto the employment practicalities side. Do you have an HR department in your workplace? (I know some places are too small to have them). If so, can you ask for a meeting, share a few selected bullet points and see what their response is? My feeling is you want to get a clearer idea of the organisation you work for. How do they treat young people? Has your boss got history with overloading people, or is this a situation that has evolved with you?
Sometimes these meetings are helpful because you might find out that three other graduates came before you and were similarly crushed by the weight of the job. So think of this an an intelligence-gathering mission. You can say a few things about how the job seems different to the one that was advertised but lean towards facts not feelings at first. If you do have a responsible HR department then they should be able to recognise you are not completely ecstatic about how the job is turning out. You said there is high turnover and unfortunately that might indicate that this is just a generally fucked workplace. It happens.
Further along those lines. Are you a member of a union? If not, perhaps you could do some research and see if a union might be able to help you out. At least find out which one would represent you in the work place and give them a call. Sometimes unions have interesting and useful information on the culture of a particular employer. This could include previous staff taking complaints against them.
OK. So you say someone has said your name will be mud if you leave in less than a year. Well the good news is you are 10 months in! People change jobs with greater regularity now and if this is just a really fucked situation that you can’t change, you can still manage other people’s perception of how you leave it.
New Zealand is small so don’t go around telling everyone that your workplace was horrible. That is for highly trusted friends who don’t gossip, or lawyers if it was epically bad. Remember, people leave jobs all the time. Don’t be intimidated into staying in a bad one – and if you do leave, do so in the best way possible.
So attend to the tears firstly. Talk to your doctor and see if some meds might help. Get into some decent self-care routines around eating and sleeping. Approach an HR person at your work if that is an option and see how they respond. They might even try to help, but if they don’t and you are still hating this job then start looking for a new one.
The language you use when talking to recruitment people is that “you learnt a lot and found that learning process really invigorating” and now you are “looking for new challenges specifically in a work environment that doesn’t have a high turnover”.
If they push you to talk more about the job you are leaving then you could hint that with your boss away on long-term leave you felt that the “learning opportunities had been minimised somewhat so it felt like the natural point to make the next step in your career”.
You do not have to say I hated this job with every fibre of my being and I cried five times a day until I was a dehydrated husk.
Also do some research. Find out who is good to work for in your field and approach them. Richard Branson of Virgin fame has a great saying about how the customers don’t come first, his employees do, because if you take care of your employees then they will do the same for customers.
We spend so much of our time at work that if and when it turns to shit for any extended time then it is really hard to cope. You shouldn’t carry on in a place where you are consistently miserable, but you can manage how you exit it if it doesn’t look like it will change.
Oh and Caller, those friends of yours who are all getting and talking up their amazing jobs? Just wait. Some of those will go to shit as well, because that’s just what happens when hopes and expectations meet reality and pathology. So forget about what everyone’s highly curated #blessed life on Facebook looks like and take control of your own situation.
PS. Write back if you need to.
Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.
All messages will be kept in the strictest confidence and your name will not be published. If you wish to remain completely anonymous, consider using a free remailer service like Send Email.
Need help now?
Lifeline 0800 543 354
Youthline 0800 376 633
OUTline (LGBT helpline) 0800 688 5463
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.