Does this describe your dream job? Boring work, a long commute to an uninteresting box building located in a bland office park, pay that’s not competitive, poor benefits, long hours and uncomfortable, privacy-obliterating cubicles. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Piling on further, though, let’s throw in a few broken promises for promotions and raises. Top it all off with a boss who dislikes you. He doesn’t invite you in his office, he doesn’t ask you to meetings and routinely complains about your work to you and your co-workers. I can’t imagine a scenario that would be much more dehumanizing, but what’s truly depressing about it is how so many people endure this office-of-horrors for weeks, months or years without trying to change it.
I’m not talking about leaving corporate life for a blissful career as a social media guru or cheerful organic tomato farmer. I’m not talking about stalking through the cube farm with an AK as a solution, either. I see people lower their heads and return glumly to work after being dismissed, humiliated and almost broken every day. I tend to get a lot of miserable employees complaining to me about their situations (since I’m not an employee – I’m a consultant – I’m “safe” to talk to). When the picture gets as grim as described above, the conversation almost always plays out like one of those dream sequences in which you watch the monster running towards you, but your feet remain planted in concrete – something terrible is coming, but it’s inescapable:
Droopy: “I hate my job, I hate everything about it.”
Me: “Too bad. You can’t transfer or anything like that?”
Droopy: “No, I’d need help from my boss.”
Me: “Well, life is short and it’s not worth putting up with a situation like this forever. Maybe you should think about quitting.”
Droopy: “No! The economy is terrible! Plus I have a mortgage/2.3 kids/credit card debt/a new car payment/etc.”
Me: “Yeah, but since you’ve been looking for a new job for a while, you’re bound to have some leads…”
Droopy: “I’ve been MEANING to start looking, but I’m just so busy – plus it’s hard to interview, my resume is outdated, I have this big project here…”
Me: “You hate your job, your boss hates you, you have no future and in all likelihood you’ll be the first head on a platter when the layoffs come… and you aren’t actively looking for a new job?”
Droopy: “But nobody’s hiring!”
Me: “Nobody’s breaking into your home at night while you’re watching American Idol and offering you a job, if that’s what you mean.”
Why is it that people wait for a good time to look for new work? Why, if you were in a terrible job like the one I’ve described above, would you worry about how “difficult” it might be to sneak away for an interview? Why would you give a second’s thought to trying to stick it out?
I suppose an optimistic person might hope for their boss to quit and Sandra Bullock to swoop in and become the chirpy, best-buddy boss in a romantic comedy. Yep. That happens almost everyday, according to the movies. When I see employees stuck in a dead end job, I feel badly. I try to help by offering advice or encouragement. When I see the same employee sit on their hands month after month without looking for a new job – but talking on the phone about last night’s episode of CSI – I want to knock the stupid out of them.
If you aren’t keeping a What-I-Done-Did file, start now. Update your resume. Sign up for LinkedIn. Get on Twitter (and yes, I’m getting as tired as everyone else of Twitter but hey, if you can’t beat ‘em…). And most importantly, start looking! One of the worst feelings you can have related to your career is a sense of powerlessness – a lack of choice. If nothing else, a job search gives you back a tiny bit of control and forcefeeds a drop of hope into your system.
We all know Milton from Office Space. We all laughed at him, but sit back and look in the mirror. If you skip washing your hair for a few days, dress like a doofus and mumble a bit, could you fit the part? If so, go grab that red stapler and flee for the hills as soon as you can.