Thursday, April 14, 2005


Essay on Dysfunctional Work Situations

I've had three really interesting conversations this week with three different people in three different job situations. All three conversations have contributed to the forceful crystallization of heretofore latent belief.

If you are in a job, and you are not treated courteously, professionally, and given opportunities to grow in your career, then you Must Leave. Yes. Leave. Walk out. Now.

"Ah, but that's not reasonable. What about my friends/bills/family/future/routine/fear/status?"

All of that crap will still be there. If finances are an issue, then envision, budget, plan, execute, and review. It's not rocket science. It's a better life. If you transition now, then a year later, you'll be in a new situation. If you wait, in a year you'll be a year older in your old situation.

You'd think, after 10,000 years of evolution, that we'd be past dysfunctional workplaces. We're not. They're all over the place. And, to be perfectly clear, I'm not talking about workplaces that aren't to someone's taste. There's no explaining one person's taste for working in retail when compared against another person's distaste of working in R&D. It may take a couple of jobs to figure out that you're working in the wrong place or field or part of the country. Or, you're simply working with or for the wrong person.

Situations that are great with one or two exceptions are manageable. Situations where you are literally the only functional, caring, productive employee are not manageable. They are dysfunctional. A single person has very little opportunity to change a snotty, sloppy, unpleasant organizational culture. The balance between what a person can and cannot control is narrow. There are so many different types of jobs out there that staying trapped in a dysfunctional one, regardless of pay, is a truly unsupportable choice.

When I say regardless of pay, I really mean it. A large salary or a big raise will keep someone in a crappy job for a bit longer. But, they will still leave. In fact, people leave highly-paid-but-miserable-jobs in droves. Some people leave after a few weeks of misery. Other people hang on for months, or rarely, years. Still others stay because they like being a victim and enjoy complaining about their miserable job, yet won't do a damn thing about it because that would involve effort. This victimology is corrosive to society.

There are at least two ways to go about changing things. One, sheer force of work ethic. It's the blue-collar, up-by-the-bootstraps, seniority wins in the end approach. It used to work a lot more often than it does now. Company loyalty, in many cases, carried the day.

The second approach is to take evasive action through education, certification, and other verifiable, objectively-determined successes. If you need a certification to get the job you want, then you get the certification. It's almost a no-brainer. The decision matrix becomes 1) the time/value of the goal job going forward 2) the time/value spent getting the credential 3) the cost of staying in the current job going forward.

If you want to work as an astronomer, and you don't have an advanced degree in physics or astronomy or chemistry or any of the other applicable degrees, then guess what? You're going to have to go to school. Either that, or make a series of significant contributions to science and use those as your credential.

If you want to be a garbage truck driver, and you aren't a member of the union, then guess what? You need to find out what it takes to join!

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