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Dream job or deal with the devil?

headline illustration by Franke James, MFA.; Running business guy ©istockphoto.com/pesky monkey

Dear Office-Politics,

11 months ago I landed my dream job. I doubled my salary overnight, and gained a “Director” title as a 26 year old. Of course, nothing is too good to be true, and at the time I realized I may have made a deal with the devil. I decided I would counteract all challenges by putting in extra hours, being extremely compliant, taking on more than was asked of me, and absorbing everything I could to maximize this incredible opportunity.

After 6 months, my lone employee resigned, thus, I had to take over her job responsibilities as well. While I was adept at managing her process, I was not familiar with her procedures and the time allocation necessary to execute her more administrative/procedural job tasks. As a result, my primary role suffered as I tried to finesse her role.

I continually asked the status of hiring a replacement and was told each time it was an “operational” decision, though there was no mention of a hiring freeze or otherwise. I asked for a non-paid intern, so I could relieve myself of some administrative burdens/concentrate on business development/and continue to sharpen my leadership skills to become a bigger asset to the company, and pitched it as such. No dice. It also became evident the CEO (who has a reputation for being very mercurial) had turned against me, as he slammed doors in my face, cut me off when I spoke, and generally began to disrespect me. At the time, I thought he was taking his disappointment of my employee’s resignation out on me…

Rather than increasing my visibility due to the several hats I am wearing, I have seemed to become an 800 pound gorilla in the room. I have sat in on meetings where age discrimination has been a very open and real discussion, condemning all “generation x and generation y’ers” with no disclaimer being made in my direction. I’m ignored and “forgotten”.

Lastly, I have been under an enormous amount of stress the past month. I stumbled across the name of a new employee in our employee email address book. The kicker? This gentleman holds a VP of Operations title, which supercedes my Director of Operations title. He has been “hired”, but I have not been involved in any of the discussions.

I understand I am “junior” and have not been with the company for even a year. Regardless, I had to find this information rather than be privy to it. During the past 6 months, I have not been given any hope for any support in the department I have been singlehandedly running, much less the motivation to continue.

Most insulting? During a leadership meeting 2 weeks ago, the executive assistant gleefully commented she was going to conference in the “Mystery Employee”. This individual asked to be taken off speakerphone, and as a result, the “Mystery Employee” was never conferenced into the meeting. Clearly, because I was in the room.

After the meeting I confronted my mentor (4th in command in the company/offices out of another state) via telephone. I told him he did not need to hide this “new hire” from me, as I already knew about him. The mentor asked me what I knew. I shared with him how I knew “Mystery Employee” had been hired, and was in a position of power above me, and I asked where I fit into the equation. The mentor assured me this did not affect my title or my job, and this was the recognition and answer to my requests for help. The conversation escalated into the mentor asking me “What else do you know?”, to which I bluffed and said “I’m not showing my hand.” Clearly, there is more for me to know, notwithstanding an imminent layoff.

I ask you this: Am I justified in preparing myself mentally for being laid off? Do I have any rights in this matter? Is it unrealistic of me to expect to be involved (at the back end) in a hiring decision that affects a department I’ve been singlehandedly running for almost a year? Everyone else with a director title and above knew……. but me – there has been no dialogue, nothing. At the end of June, the mentor visited my office in what I thought was going to be a performance evaluation, but was essentially a 6 hour “information gathering” session. Hindsight is certainly 20/20, as I’m also realizing why my requests for a replacement were dismissed.

I have lost all motivation to work here. Unfortunately, this “Mystery (Confirmed) Employee” does not start (so I’ve been told) for another week. I still need to clock in 50-70 hr weeks in order to maintain my workload, and quite frankly, I have no desire to do a good job anymore, and feel I would be better served working my obligated 40 and funneling the rest of my energy into looking for a new job.

I am open to the concept of “paying dues”, but is this appropriate? I just don’t know what to do (other than look for a new job).. How do I handle the day-to-day? Is there any way to regain respect/dignity, or should I quit(no pun intended) while I am ahead?

Generation X


marty seldman.jpg
joshua seldman

Dear Generation X,

We are sorry to hear that your “dream job” has turned into a “nightmare”. There are several reasons why it is probably time for you to move on. We will explain them below and in addition what you can do for the time that you remain.

Reasons for leaving:

1) Even without the arrival of the “Mystery Employee”, who it seems is now your boss, the job itself does not appear to be sustainable. This means that even though you are young and energetic, doing two or three jobs at once without support will lead to mistakes or burnout. Help does not seem to be on the way.

2) All the signs are there that you have been marginalized, meaning that you are being treated as if you have no power or influence. So people who read these signals feel that they can treat you with disrespect with no consequence to them. There are people who won’t engage in this behavior but your letter indicates that unfortunately many people there will. So in these situations things usually get more painful as the examples of being disrepected or being “invisible” pile up

3) In addition there are signs that your replacement has arrived and being layed off is getting more and more probable.

So what to do:

In terms of your rights, it would depend on your contract and the state where you live. An employment lawyer could explain your options.

Definitely, begin to aggressively look for alternative employment, since that is easier while you still have a job.

You could quit if the environment is too “toxic” but if you can stay and leave based on your preferred timing it may be better. If you stay, definitely stop killing yourself for the job since it is not being appreciated or reciprocated.

With these long hours and instances of disrespect you should also pay attention to your physical and mental health. Many people can become ill from these kind of conditions. So the basics of nutrition, exercise, stress management and sleep become even more important when you go through this kind of experience.

To salvage something from this job, we would suggest trying to get feedback about your behavior and performance from someone you trust, because there is always the possibility that you may have some blindspots about your own behavior.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.com.

Good luck,

Marty and Joshua

Marty Seldman, Ph.D. and Joshua Seldman
Co-authors, Executive Stamina

cover of Executive StaminaMarty Seldman, Ph.D. and Joshua Seldman, are Co-authors of Executive Stamina: How to optimize time, energy and productivity to achieve peak performance. In Executive Stamina, you’ll learn all the skills, techniques, and positive practices needed to create a sustainable path to achieve your full career potential. Renowned executive coach Marty Seldman and endurance coach Joshua Seldman will introduce you to the revolutionary training system they’ve used with great success on top executives and endurance athletes. You’ll find hundreds of tips and tools that will help you maximize your career potential, while maintaining your health, staying in touch with your values, and avoiding costly tradeoffs in your personal life.

  1. 4 Answers to “Dream job or deal with the devil?”

  2. Hi,
    I am going through the same situation as you though not as severe. I did a lot of self reflecting. I believe, like you, I broke the number one cardinal rule. Don’t outshine your superiors! Dont do more than your superiors.

    You may think this is unfair but everybody has an ego even you. Seems that you want to get ahead very quickly, and without regard for the people around you. Your superiors may have gotten there by holding back and having the patience to get promoted.

    You seem like a very bright person. Let face it. Most people may not be as bright as you. But average IQ’s are in the majority. In a larger corporate environment you have to deal with the masses.

    Believe me, I’m paying for this mistake myself. In this tough economic climate, I think I’m in for a long painful ride.

    By BJ on Nov 5, 2008

  3. I was in a similar situation. Director for 4 years.. Hired from a consultant role with the same company. I have 25 years of experience. All else being equal.. your capable of doing the job. it comes down to being able to get along. As stupid as it may seem.. how well do you mingle and talk sports, joke, work out in the gym.. the qualities that go above and beyond.. at that level and above you are no longer a worker drone… you’re a leader.. and the chemistry has to be right… if you not spending your idle time in interesting conversation other than work with your boss.. I believe you will not be successful. Actually I believe that the TV show “Mad Men” demonstrates the delineation between the levels of management and the social skills needed.. Sometimes.. Whether you’re a good fit or not.. is all that separates you from long successful career. So don’t kill yourself if its not flowing.. and you should always be networking and looking for your next role. Recognize that you are now the last kid picked when picking teams. There is another team out there that will want you.

    By Phil on Nov 16, 2008

  4. I had been forewarned to keep a low profile the first day of work. Stand back and observe the way things are done in the office and dont offer up too much of your own opinions. This may sound lame for independant minded people but large organizations have too many personalities and therefore personalities need to be managed and kept it check so that the managers can mobilize and run the business. You may think only mindless, machine-like people can work in these kinds of environments. However, until you have ever started a company on your own and ran it sucessfully dont be too agressive in someonelse’s corporation. Ethical or unethical, I learned this the hard way.

    By Dav on Nov 17, 2008

  5. I have experienced something similar. My colleague got sick and I had to take over her job as well. I worked extremely hard but I could not cope with the workload. After a year, my colleague was still absent and I got sick myself. Probably a combination of pneumonia and a burn-out. I was sick and absent for 5 months. My boss called me to say that I could not cope with stress and that he had hired a replacement (he could not fire me because I work for the government of a European country and have a special contract). When I finally returned the new one was sitting at my desk, I simply had no desk. I was completely ignored by my boss and some other colleagues. They made it very clear that I was a loser. My absent colleague was still on sickleave, but that did not matter! I was the bad one. The situation was totally depressing. I had been a very good and loyal employee and I could not believe that I was treated like that for being sick! I quit after 6 weeks. I have another job now, but it still hurts if I think about my former job. And oh, the new employee quit after seven months because the workload was too heavy. Some justice for me after all. I will never work that hard ever again, unless I have my own company. It is simply not worth it. People get used to the fact that you work so hard and get angry if you’re not able the perform like that anymore.

    By DD on Aug 20, 2009

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