I have tons of friends who hate their jobs. Are you one of them? Their co-workers are annoying or lazy (I should be so lucky) and their paychecks are crap. Here’s the deal: I rarely meet people who love the size of their paychecks. I also rarely meet people who love all their co-workers. People generally don’t want to wake up in the morning for work, so we’re all in the same big miserable ship. Me? I’m on that ship, locked in the hull, under the water, in the blackness.
I won’t disclose where I work, but I will tell you that I work for a very small, private institute in the educational sector. This place does not have an actual HR department (except the one, ornery woman who monitors each and every phone call going in or coming out of my office). I will tell you they run this business with a pre-1950s mentality. Customers (students) have to dress a certain way. Everyone must be addressed as “Ms.” and “Mr.” And, if you Yelp them, you’ll see that former employees complain of internal racism.
I was desperate when the economy crashed. Even with a Masters degree and a lot of strong experience in everything from social services to administration to the service industry, I was struggling big-time. So, I took the job offer, elated. This is what happened when they hired me: I was told I would be doing my job, PLUS teaching, which is something I was interested in doing. Their active engagement in my ideas and faux warmth got me thinking, “Wow! This is awesome.”
After being hired, I heard my boss ask my colleague to put on some lipstick because she “looked tired.” I was offended. I also was told by other co-workers that they’d hired me because I was pretty. No bueno, people.
A month in, I asked about the teaching bit, and they pretended like it was never an option, that it was something to consider “down the line.” Though I needed the money, a part of me took this job because of the teaching offer.
I decided to try to make the best of it. It was a steady paycheck, after all. As I settled, I noticed the dark atmosphere: No one really talked. There was some gossip about people’s misery, but no one talked. Talking isn’t allowed, really, because our direct manager reminds us of The Cameras. Or she calls to passive-aggressively ask, “What are you working on?” when she sees you talking to a co-worker. She knows what you’re working on. The fact of the matter is that no one is actually standing around talking -- because the office is tiny, and there are cameras on you (which the management periodically moves to scare us, like some big, leering monster in 1984.
This a fear-based office. Big-time. Also: no coffee, no hats, no cell phone use and no use of the printer. And no denim. Especially blue denim. (That goes for students too.) Call me liberal, but when you’re trying to welcome students (their “open houses” consist of an empty room with a box of stale munchkins), giving them a dress code doesn’t really work. Most of these students work all day, and don’t have time to change into dress code.
Anyways. Although they’d clearly ignored the whole “teaching” promise, I was offered the option to complete writing projects for Management. I jumped at the opportunity. They gave me some projects and paid me for extra time; all was OK. Until one day when I told them I’d finished all my projects and needed new work. They responded vaguely, and without thanks: “I’ll let you know if I need help with anything, but since we’re so short on support right now, can you focus on helping with telemarketing?”
I never heard one word about the work I'd already submitted, and I never received so much as an in-person acknowledgement.
But back to the fearful office. I once used the printer to print a publishing contract I’d been offered; I wanted to read it on my way home from work. I stupidly left the print-out in the printer, and someone reported me for using the printer. People in this workplace have adopted a fierce, Darwinian survival strategy; in order to keep the bosses liking you, you must offer up a sacrifice. You must throw someone under the bus. This buys you enough time to stay off their radar. This isn’t just my observation; I’ve had conversations with current and former employees about it.
When the print-out debacle occured, I was asked to Join The Management (cue horror-movie voice) in a dimly lit conference room (I kid you not). The portraits on the walls all hung on an angle in this room, sort of like that scene in "Garden State"; I choked back a giggle. In this conference room I was accused of “double dipping” on the job, because, yeah, poetry book contracts make SO much money. Wouldn’t you applaud a published writer who works for your educational institution?
Also, news flash: Every person on this godforsaken Earth uses their work printer from time to time. It’s called “having an office with a printer and being a broke 20-something who can’t afford one.” My co-workers are consistently shopping online and printing out receipts. Unless it’s abused, it shouldn’t have been dealt with the way it was. The management told me I should be fired for using the printer, and then, just to show off their power, told me I wasn’t “making enough telemarketing calls.”
They then put me on an “improvement plan,” which required I made 40 phone calls per hour. FORTY. Do you know what 40 phone calls an hour is like, on TOP of doing a job? Almost impossible. Definitely impossible if people actually pick up the phone! I double dare you all to try this and then tell me how to achieve the impossible. I told them I could barely get through 30 calls, and they nodded as though I was some freaky failed experiment.
Oh! After I seemingly proved myself, they were on me like bees to honey to do extra work around the office. They never even called me in to reassess the “improvement plan.” They just said, “great job making calls,” and I’d think, “I missed lunch and cried in the bathroom.”
So, in order to pay my rent, I sit, like a dog, and press buttons, my heart racing, trying to adhere to this insane demand. I ask my coworkers how many calls they make. They are ASTOUNDED when I tell them I’m trying to make 40 per hour. Sometimes people don’t make 40 in a day.
While the Management are a bunch of douchebags, my direct boss for this department is a young woman. She’s smart, but obviously this is her first “real” directorial job. She’s developed an ego because of it, struts in with her glasses and iced coffee, and then barks orders and rips papers from your hand. She lacks the skills to supervise: She doesn’t lead by example, has clear favorites and has hired her under-qualified family member, is consistently thankless, vague with orders, accusatory (she tells me on a weekly basis that I’ve done something I didn’t do wrong) and unwilling -- by God this person is unfuckingbelievable -- to listen to your point of view.
For example, I told my boss I spoke with a colleague about how she goes about making appointments. I was told to mind my own business. I know, HELLO!? I firmly believe that a good workplace encourages open dialogue, especially about the job itself. Co-workers helping co-workers = increased workplace productivity. But there’s no such thing as efficiency or innovation; you can’t just offer up an idea or a suggestion. You’d be viewed as someone stepping on toes or insulting the management.
On top of all of this, my direct boss started bullying me a few months ago: she’d take papers from my hand, rescind my duties without explanation, bark at me when I didn’t do those specific duties she’d just rescinded, talk over me, embarrass me in front of the office and accuse me of working on personal projects (I wasn’t). One time she told to me take a cab to an event because she’d meet me there later. Ten minutes later, she calls me and makes me order the cab to come back and pick her up, telling everyone I left without her. Yeah.
It got so bad I’d cry when I got home. I’d just sit and worry about the paycheck and how to make it through one more day. I applied (and still apply) to countless jobs, but until something comes up, I’m stuck.
One day, the boss and I were paired up at an event. She treated me kindly, asked me questions about everything from my poetry to my boyfriend, offered up loads of actually kind of weird and sad details about her personal life, and then started treating me with a little more respect than before.
My co-workers say it’s her way of pulling me in only to push me out. I say, I can’t take this anymore. Between the cameras and the nepotism and the unwavering fear factor, I’m just shocked I’ve made it this long. What are your thoughts? How would you deal with this?