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Each day is hell and affects my health

Text by Franke James, MFA.; Goldfish and shark ©istockphoto.com/Roberto A Sanchez

Dear Office-Politics,

I hope you can help me with this situation.

I’ve worked for my current high-tech Telecom employer for 18 years, the last eight years in a help desk environment. The first six years I reported to a person of high integrity that fostered teamwork and promoted communication and individual growth. After his retirement, my supervisor was promoted to manager.

That left me to carry the load and at the same time either train a contractor, or bring up one of the techs (I’ll call him Joe). Problem was, although he was the logical choice in the business sense, this was the very person I had turned in for pornography. I thought I could get past it and gave it the old college try. From the beginning he either slept during one-on-one mentoring sessions, or didn’t show up. He flat out said he didn’t have time to help because he needed to study for his exams (I later learned that this was with senior management blessing).

None of this surprised me… I had only hoped it would be different. For a year I was responsible for training him, a contractor, a new hire, and getting my own work done. I was supposed to move into a co-lead role. But, simply put, I burned out. After a year, I told management that I wanted to step back my level of responsibility due to health issues related to the burnout and stress. Now… because finding others to fill in my responsibilities has proven difficult (those with the experience needed are not interested in the lab/help-desk environment), the new hire (co-lead) has taken a combined role as “technical team lead”.

Here’s where the problem comes in. The team lead did not even know my title, or what it is I do. Because Joe has an associates degree in the field, the team lead is directing the work I should be doing to Joe. And he’s directing me to tasks of lower responsibility. I wouldn’t object if Joe was competent and had integrity, but he isn’t yet and doesn’t. He still sleeps on the job, works hard at not working, and is a master at looking like he’s a major contributor (has always been that way… coworkers believe management is afraid of his bully/punky/gun toting tattoo’ appearance).

I can hardly go into work every day. I’ve actually called in for unplanned time off for the third time in 18 years. The resentment is affecting my health. I’m resenting senior management not guiding the transition and resenting that my learning opportunities are jeopardized.

The new team lead is more like a dictator than a leader. He does not communicate (a requirement here so everyone has the information needed to support the user community) and has exhibited a lack of integrity in team meetings (degrading any respect I might have had for him). I have documented incidences, but in putting them together it all looks like I’m whining, even though they are in my mind legitimate. The team lead has stated on many occasions that he has an agenda, has misrepresented data to management to get purchase approvals, has stated to the team that even though senior management has expressed security concerns with something he wanted to do, he was going to do it anyway, all of which engenders lack of trust from me.

I recently asked for a transfer and am seeking opportunities in other groups. But the wheels are turning way too slow. I know it would be best for everyone concerned if I left the group. In the mean time, each day is hell and it’s hard to be productive.

Wow… Now to my question. Was it the wrong thing to do to ask for a step back in the first place and is it wrong to ask for a change now? I’m in my mid-50s, love this company, am not in a financial position to bag the job and don’t want to. Any advice on how to move forward? I’m not afraid to say that I recognize the satisfaction these two will get from me leaving, but am not ready to do so.


Lost in transition

franke james

Dear Lost in transition,

I’m trying to select an adviser to answer your letter. Let me replay one line from your letter that stands out:

In the mean time, each day is hell and it’s hard to be productive.

Can you please help me understand you better by writing down three to five reasons (other than money) that you should stay where you are?

Then please write down one or two personal things that you get satisfaction from in your daily life. What makes you happy?



Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game


Text by Franke James, MFA.; Goldfish and shark ©istockphoto.com/Roberto A Sanchez

Dear Office-Politics,

It’s hard to differentiate why I stay now as opposed to before. I guess I’m still holding on to:

I had such an opportunity until these circumstances and I’m still not accepting that someone can walk in and manipulate it to benefit themselves.

I love the company. I’ve seen it go from nothing to a well respected company in it’s space. I still believe what’s right will win out and I’ll still have the opportunity that was put before me. I feel like a victim of poor management, but haven’t been able to accept “Life isn’t fair”.

I have not even given thought to going somewhere else. At this point, it’s like having a rug pulled from underneath me.

What makes me happy in my personal life? My home life… husband and dogs. Being creative… quilting, sewing, embroidery. Charity work.

Hope that helps. Yes, I’m a basket case right now… this was so unexpected that it’s shaken our world as we knew it a very few months ago.

Lost in transition

franke james

Dear Lost in transition,

Your request to step back your level of responsibility due to burnout and stress was in your best interests and the company’s best interests — and probably the smartest thing for you to do. But the problem is it didn’t stop the stress. Moving forward you need a plan to change things for the better. Immediately. Before we look at your job situation, let’s consider the state of your physical and emotional health. In several places you’ve mentioned the toll that this dysfunctional workplace is having on your health. Stress isn’t going to announce itself with a wailing siren (unless it’s an ambulance coming to pick you up off the floor).

Here are the clues, in your own words, that you are still under too much stress:
1. I burned out…
2. I can hardly go into work every day
3. I’ve actually called in for unplanned time off for the 3rd time in 18 years.
4. The resentment is affecting my health.
5. Each day is hell and it’s hard to be productive.

Chronic stress impacts health
Chronic stress can cause real health problems. The smörgåsbord includes high blood pressure, migraines, heart disease, ulcers, diabetes and the list goes on.

“Chronic stress wears you down day after day and year after year, with no visible escape. Under sustained or severe stress, even the most well-adjusted person loses the ability to adapt. When stress overwhelms our coping resources, our bodies and minds suffer. Recent research suggests that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of illness is stress-related. The physical wear and tear of stress includes damage to the cardiovascular system and immune system suppression.” HelpGuide resource

I asked you what makes you happy in life. That wonderful list you sent me won’t be yours to enjoy if your health deteriorates. I suggest you consult your doctor and find ways to manage your stress levels and balance your life better. For some people practicing yoga daily, or going for long walks can make daily stresses easier to handle. It may sound small but studies have shown that daily exercise can be more effective at reducing stress than medication. So, we’re not going to worry about your health anymore because you’re going to take care of it. That is Job #1 and must be addressed (even if it means taking a ‘sabbatical’ for awhile).

Job #2 is dealing with your workplace

My observation of your workplace is that the political climate has changed dramatically. You already knew this, but perhaps coming from an objective source, the confirmation may help you to decide what is the right thing to do.

In your early years you reported to a boss who had “high integrity” and “fostered teamwork”. He “promoted communication and individual growth”. That to me describes a positive Office-Politics player, one whose actions are guided by integrity. He had the best interests of the company, and employees in mind. You were fortunate to work with a person of his character. I think having that positive type of manager has taught you what to look for — and is probably why your current situation is so frustrating.

Political Styles of coworkers

You’ve given us lots of clues as to the political styles of the two characters you’re working with now. The co-lead fits the description of a Machiavellian Office-Politics player. He is not guided by integrity, or what is best for the company, but by his own self-interest. From your description we can see that he has hidden agendas and he is devious.

Joe sounds like a fitting sidekick for him. He also puts his needs ahead of the company’s (viewing pornography and falling asleep on the job). But so far he’s getting away with things. His actions haven’t hurt him, and he’s won concessions from management to study for his exams. Management is obviously giving him support. But what are they doing for you?

Find your spot to shine

One of the problems you may be facing — aside from working with two unethical political players — is ageism. It’s easier for management to invest in a young guy like Joe, than you, who are in your mid-50’s and likely only five to ten years from retirement. But you have so much going for you. With the right mindset you can be more valuable to the company than ever before. You have strong loyalty. You have ‘knowledge’ assets that come from working at your job for 18 years. Both are a type of power and you’re going to need to draw on that reservoir of strength. Herb Cohen the author of You Can Negotiate Anything says, “Power is based on perception. If you think you’ve got it then you’ve got it. If you think you don’t have it, even if you’ve got it, then you don’t have it.”

Your natural modesty may be stopping you from pushing yourself to the front, but from your letter it sounds like you could be a far better manager than either Joe or the Machiavellian co-lead.

Awareness makes all the difference. If you agree that these two are unethical political players what are you going to do about it? It is highly unlikely that you could ever change them. They are who they are . But you could blow the whistle on them and try to get them booted out. Problem is — have they done anything significant yet that will get them nailed? Probably not yet. You said your documentation looks like ‘whining’. So, it doesn’t sound like it’s worth the risk to you. It’s not a battle you’re likely to win, yet.

But I’m not suggesting you accept defeat. I think you have to decide if you are ready to be a positive political player (like your old boss) and push your ideas, values and beliefs to the front in an ethical above-board way — because you know you have the company’s best interests in mind. You can be a positive influence on the company you say you ‘love’.

Think of your transfer as a chance to find a spot where you can shine and share your knowledge, unhindered. Look for a department where others of high integrity are gravitating. Life is too short to work with negative people.

But maybe the transfer isn’t quite what you’re looking for? Then do this:

Create a Vision of Success

Think big. Give yourself a chance to think about the biggest and best contribution you could make to the company. What would it be? Who else would benefit? Who could you bring on side to support your dream? How would it affect the company? Would management help you to achieve your vision if you could persuade them that it was in their interests too?

The phrase “Ask and you shall receive” comes to mind. Sit down and really think through what would make you happy at work.

Then take three steps:
1. Create a detailed action plan.
2. Seek support from others.
3. Ask management for what you want.

Good luck! I hope some of this helps. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

And have a nice weekend!


Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game


Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

  1. 2 Answers to “Each day is hell and affects my health”

  2. Feedback from Lost in transition

    Was the advice helpful? Oh my gosh, yes. I’m still digesting it… I’m on vacation next week and will have the downtime to think through it all clearly and make a plan. Though I all too painfully recognize the effects of stress and burnout, your point that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the things that make me happy in my personal life, and wouldn’t be mine to enjoy if my health deteriorated, was exactly what I needed to hear.

    There’s a lot to take into consideration and a lot to apply. I spent the weekend putting together an internal resume… that in itself helped… one step at a time. That can be the foundation for the action plan as I believe it’s in my best interest to seek a different opportunity within the company as opposed to staying where I am.

    Thanks again for the response. Why is it sometimes you just need an outsider to help you see clearly?

    By Letter writer on Mar 26, 2008

  3. Just wanted to chime in and wish you good luck in this transition – a difficult (to say the least) place to be, and a situation that happens more often than we’d like to think.

    If you’re interested in some reading material, I’d like to recommend “Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. It’s a very readable and at the same time thoroughly researched book on the ways that women negotiate – or don’t! – and the high cost of that in today’s workplace.

    Good luck!

    By Grace Judson on Mar 28, 2008

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