I was excited when I started my new job. When I lost it a month later, I didn't shed a tear. In fact, I was glad the decision was made for me.
Several questioned me taking the job at all. The company was struggling and for a good reason. They were reactive instead of proactive and thoughtful. They didn't listen to employees. They didn't trust employees. They had managers who didn't manage and even seemed to forget they had people reporting to them. Senior managers had twenty people reporting to them, yet they had an additional workload that was more critical than anything else. It was chaotic and there was constant crisis management necessary, and there were no plans in place of how to deal with such things. All common reasons for business failure.
Mostly what saddens me is that I lost my job due to the machinations of another woman. A woman who didn’t know me. My peer, not my boss.
I began work at this company with two other female managers within a week of each other. Our jobs all intersected at some point. We had distinct areas of expertise. I was excited about working with them. I believed we could work together to accomplish great things. The woman who ultimately led to me losing my job was one of these other managers.
Very quickly out of the gate, I saw there was a difference in our approaches to work. They fell into the reactive side of things and had frequent “revelations” of how bad things were at the company. There was constant drama.
I was not panicking. It’s not my nature. I was advised things were bad during the initial interview and that the company was out of compliance in a lot of areas. They were, too. Still, behind closed doors, these women acted as though they were duped.
One of the first days we worked there, one of the managers came into the makeshift office I shared with the other newly hired manager and announced that she had found evidence that the two of them had not been the first choices for their jobs. (I must have been the first choice for my position, not that it mattered.) Why would she even share that with this other manager? I suspect misery loves company.
While I certainly had nothing to do with this, something in their attitude towards me cooled that day. Combined with my perspective that the company had been upfront about the mess we would encounter, and I was not yet ready to look for another job, I was no longer “one of them.”
Both had begun looking for new jobs immediately after they started work there. I didn’t. The challenge of it all interested me. I figured I could do my thing and avoid the drama.
One of these women got a new job one of her first weeks there. She planned to work the rest of her week, and on Friday, leave her resignation on her desk and never come back.
I was a bit shocked that a professional would leave a job this way, but I also knew if she told them she was quitting, the result would be somewhat the same. They would have walked her out as soon as they knew. That was the company’s way.
Plans changed because the company that was going to hire her came back and said the non-compete agreement with her previous employer prohibited her from taking the job. She was going to have to stay until she found something new. She was not happy.
I began the slow process of surveying the scene in my area, learning all I could about how things were, pulling everything apart, and starting to put it together again as it should be.
I had exactly one conversation with my boss during the time I worked there, and it had nothing to do with my actual job. He gave us a tour of the offices.
At no point did anyone in the company ask me what my assessment was of things in my area, what the most critical areas of change I thought were needed, and what my plans were to fix things. I had been told that I needed to be self-directed in my position, so I went on my way.
There was one part of my job for which I had no practical experience. This was a point of discussion in the interview process, and I was quite open about it. I did not pretend to have knowledge I didn’t possess.
I spoke with others in my industry who were experts in that area, however, and they said it would not be an issue and should not keep me from accepting the job. They knew my work and work ethic and said I’d have no problem picking up what I didn't know. They offered their assistance if I needed it. After speaking with them, I knew I could do it and would eventually do it well.
Week two of my employment, however, I was called into the office of one of my peer managers. She proceeded to tell me she had been asked how I was doing at my job. She said she did not like how I was handling that one component. Note that week one, I had told the other managers said it was the one part of my job I had no experience in, and she said she would do everything she could to help me.
Now it was week two, she had been of no help to me on the subject, and she started interrogating me on the subject. I hadn’t prepared for a test. I sat there, stunned. She then said she didn’t think I was going to be able to “get” it, and essentially said she was going to recommend that I be fired. This was based on nothing. I felt as though I was a child being scolded by the class bully.
She didn’t make me scared of losing my job. I dared her to do it. But I was disappointed. My spirit of “let’s help each other get better” wasn’t working here. Well, I spent time doing things that helped her and the other manager, but it was never appreciated, recognized, or reciprocated.
I was firm in my rebuttal to her. I didn’t lose my temper, but I also didn’t crumble. I stood firm.
I write from time to time about the plague of being an idealist in a world that is less-than-ideal. I expect my co-workers to treat me well and support me as I do them. It doesn’t always happen. I also hope people to boost other people up and not bully them.
A conversation I had with one of the senior managers that hired me probably put a nail in my coffin. I asked if the management structure had changed. I also expressed frustration that this peer manager was interrogating me and ordering me to do assignments of her choosing immediately, with no discussion of my priorities.
He said the structure had not changed, and he would speak with her. This resulted in more negative behavior from the offensive manager.
The other manager (with whom I was sharing a temporary office) was told I had complained about her talking loudly. I hadn’t. My only complaint related to her was the fact that we had to share an office, both had online meetings and calls at the same time, and I had to either cancel my participation in my meetings or take them by phone elsewhere. With a “no work at home” mandate, I was stymied.
The other two women were working crazy hours, seven days a week. This was their choice. They spent a lot of time complaining about the company. They were burning themselves out, and it showed in their attitudes.
I’m more of a “slow and steady wins the race” type. Instead of being reactive, I was proactive, working on the overall systemic issues and putting out fires. I’ve learned that my best work does not come from working the most hours, and experts almost universally agree. I did work overtime, but not near the hours they did. I also lived an hour away, so had a two-hour commute each day.
The one person in the department who had been working in my area before was a direct report to one of the other managers. The time I could even ask her questions was limited and not a priority.
They were trying to build a case to fire her but were trying to get as much knowledge as they could out of her first. She sensed this and wisely held back information as long as she could. I don’t blame her, but the negative culture impacted what I could accomplish. Each time I tried to get information produced very little. It was one frustration after another.
They called me in at five on a Friday to tell me my job was being eliminated. In other words, I was fired. I asked for an explanation and was told there would be none.
I was relieved in many ways, as company culture is vital to me, and I already knew (from my experience and from the stories of other employees) this was a toxic one. It still somewhat made me sad because I knew I was going to make a positive difference. Based on those employees who have called me since I left, I know I did even in my short time there.
Through this experience, I remembered a few life lessons that we all can benefit from putting into practice.
- Don’t accept one side of the story before hearing the other.
- The loudest voices are often not the truthful ones. They believe if people listen only to them, they will believe them. They get louder. They are usually right in their assessment.
- When people approach work with drama, they seldom come to the best long-term solutions. When they look for necessary systemic change, it may take more time upfront, but pay dividends in the future.
- Working more hours does not always bring the best results.
- With good management, there is good communication. Expectations are clear, as are the necessary results. This does not take much time if you hire good employees.
- If a company cannot articulate why an employee is not meeting their standards, it could be because there are no standards.
- “If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.” Older generations have told us this over and over again because it is true.
- In the end, natural consequences for actions will occur. There is rarely a reason to machinate in any way. Leave it behind and go on your way,
Knowing all I know now, I am still glad I had this experience. It reminded me who I am, and who I don’t want to be. It reminded me that the culture and the integrity of the business you work for does reflect upon you. A bit of toxicity goes a long way. When you see it, it’s better to go in a new direction. Quickly.