Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hang On

During the past few weeks since I posted the story about the Data Manager who walked out on our project I have discovered something. There are a lot of people out there who hate their jobs. And while each person's situation may be slightly different, the end result is the same. We're mad as hell and we just can't take it any more.

My girlfriend was recently promoted to a position in Human Resources for a small non-profit. From the stories I have heard, this place is completely dysfunctional. She listens to employee complaints all day long and tries to come up with reasonable solutions. But when she presents her ideas to management in order to to solve the problem, she is met with resistance. So, she is left feeling helpless and frustrated because the good employees keep leaving.

Meanwhile, my sister is working for a private for-profit company that seems to be in total chaos all the time. The executives jump from one big opportunity to another, but never finish anything. In order to do her job, she needs processes, structure and rules. But she is in a corporate culture that values none of those things. So, she is constantly spending her time trying to navigate through uncharted waters or dealing with unplanned emergencies. She can't get anything accomplished.

Then there's the Boy. He is simply bored and under-utilized at work. He has lots of interesting ideas and a pretty fierce entrepreneurial spirit. But his current job does not allow him much freedom or flexibility. I always picture his office as one of those places where there are Dilbert cartoons up in every cube, but management has no clue that there is a problem. So he goes to work, puts in his eight hours and goes home to focus on more interesting things.

I was out for dinner with a woman I used to work with and we were talking about the general economic environment and the negative impact it has had on the work force. She works in Customer Service for an insurance company, where the employees take the most abuse for the least amount of money. "Employers have the upper hand and can treat their employees like crap," she explained. "Soon the tides will turn and all of those employees are going to revolt."

I really hope that she's right, but to be honest I can't see that happening any time soon. Right now the corporations seem to have all the power. The workers can either put up with it or leave.

Which brings me back to the Data Manager. Clearly she had reached her limit. That is why she stormed out and never looked back. But there's more to the story. Just two days after the Data Manager quit, I got an emergency call from my Boss to let me know that the Daughter was delaying the database implementation by at least three weeks. The pressure was off and our team breathed a collective sigh of relief.

If the Data Manager could have just hung on a little longer, most of her stress would have gone away. Instead, she gave up her livelihood and sacrificed her future. While the company has moved on as if nothing ever happened. There were probably a bunch of desperate applicants lined up for her job before her car even left the parking lot.

As I have been talking with friends and acquaintances about their frustrations at work, I find myself giving the same advice. Instead of walking away from your job, just emotionally distance yourself from the situation. In other words, quit while you still work there.

I cant believe that is the advice I am giving people, but it has worked for me. Last week was a perfect example. We are still working on getting the Daughter's database tested and ready for production. In the meantime, she has already moved on to the next crisis. She keeps e-mailing me asking for more services and more software. Everything is urgent and she wants proposals and pricing ASAP.

To make matters worse, my Boss keeps chiming in to tell me about possible solutions for the Daughter's crisis of the day. I have been calmly taking down notes, writing up the requirements and sending them to the appropriate people for review and pricing. It may be a crisis to my Boss and her Daughter, but it's not a crisis to me. I am working on it as fast as I can, within the confines of my 8-9 hour work day. And that is all I can do. If the Daughter's company is on the brink of financial disaster, our databases and software are not going to save them.

It's unfortunate that I am in this position. I remember being in my 20s and working at my first few jobs. I would hastily pass judgment on people who worked their 8 hours and then went home, while I was working extra hours and making a real difference. What was wrong with them? Why didn't they care about their job? After working a few more years and having gained some perspective, I am starting to understand them better. They had already learned what I now know. Your job is not your life.

Don't get me wrong, I would work a million hours for a job I love or for a cause that I am passionate about. And I'm envious of the people out there who have the privilege of doing that every day. Someday I hope to have a job like that. But for now, I will not sacrifice my personal life for an unreasonable boss, a rude client and a selfish company.

One of my team members came up to me last week to ask me about scheduling her vacation at a time that would be least disruptive to the project. I told her the same thing I have been telling all of my staff when they ask about vacation time. The company signed a contract to implement a database for the client, you didn't. So go take your vacation and live your life. Let the company figure out how to deliver on its promises. And for God sakes don't bring your Blackberry with you. It's just not worth it.

My Mr. Big had this figured out long before I did. I guess that was one of the benefits of being with an older man. When he quit the company we used to work at together, it was in the middle of a massive system implementation. The CEO called him down to the executive suite and asked how he could leave at such a critical time, after all that the company had done for him.

His response was a simple statement. "I worked and you paid me. So at the end of each day we're even."

Maybe my friend in Customer Service is right after all. If we can just hang on, eventually the tides will turn. And we might as well keep collecting our paychecks while we wait.

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