toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

July 26, 2007

blow ups and blow overs

Gayle, single and 34, sensed something was wrong when she returned from lunch early one day and saw a strange woman in her manager's office.

"He looked like he was interviewing this woman," says Gayle, "and yet when I asked him whether he's hiring more supervisors - and, if so, why, when sales had been slipping for months and some of my girls didn't have enough work to keep them busy - he changed the subject abruptly."

Gayle immediately sensed that her job was on the line. Why? No rational reason whatsoever. There were no other signs besides this one-off meeting, and up until then she had no reason to believe her manager was anything other than a good guy - but he was going away for the next three weeks and this bothered her, too. She sensed she was in trouble.

The meeting gave Gayle five preliminary signs:

there was a strange woman in the office
the meeting appeared to have been arranged deliberately to coincide with her normal lunch time
the meeting appeared to be an interview
the meeting was held immediately before her manager was going to be away for three weeks
her manager refused to tell her what was going on (this was the most telling of the signs).

"Most people would have shrugged these signs off had they noticed them - which most people don't because they're too busy or too stressed to pay attention to what's going on around them," says Gayle, "but not me. I had a flash intuition that my manager intended to drop a bomb on me - demotion or dismissal - when he returned from an extended business trip and I wanted to be prepared."

"I didn't want to spend the next three weeks worrying under a black cloud," explains Gayle, "so that night I decided that the best way to handle this niggling doubt about my future with the company was to cover myself."

She had no worries about her performance. It had been consistently excellent. The only trouble was that only a few people knew how good she was, so if her manager had decided he was tired of her and wanted to get rid of her, he had a clear coast. Her tactic of covering herself meant that she had to make sure that those at the top knew how good she was.

Gayle's company had a suggestion box that circumvented middle management, going straight to the executive managers. She sat down that night and composed a great report about ideas the company could follow to improve its market position.

"The next day I dropped my report into the suggestion box and almost immediately I felt that black cloud disappearing," laughs Gayle.

The act of covering oneself does have this 'unburdening' effect, but if the niggling doubts persist then something else needs to be done.

In Gayle's case, she started to get uneasy feelings again a week later when she had not received an acknowledgement for her report.

"Having never dropped anything into the suggestion box before, I had no idea how long acknowledgements took," explains Gayle, "so I asked and was told about two weeks. In other words, exactly coinciding with my manager's return and probably too late to be of assistance to me."

It's wise to find as many ways as you can to cover yourself, and while Gayle's story relates to a workplace situation, it applies to any type of relationship.

"If the man in your life - or a child, relative or friend - is showing preliminary signs that something is not quite right," says Gayle, "you need to cover yourself. Do something to ameliorate the situation until you know which way the wind is blowing."

Gayle explains that when you intuit preliminary signs of trouble you need to take cover - do something to ameliorate the situation until such time as whatever you have intuited either blows over or blows up - but if this preliminary action does not ease those intuitive bells ringing in your head, then you can either stew for that period, distract yourself or take action in preparation for the worst possible scenario.

Gayle decided to take the third option - she moved very quickly to put herself in charge of her life.

Gayle's rationale was quite simple: when a manager wants to get rid of you he almost has carte blanche to do so and it matters not an iota if your work and behavior are excellent.

"It's not fair, it's not productive and it's an abominable way to treat staff ," explains Gayle, "but it happens every day, all around the world, in every workplace and, indeed, in every relationship. If you want to be a success in life, you need to accept this fact - not moan about it - and take charge not only of your career, but your private life, too."

Rather than waiting for a potential bomb to drop in two weeks - or more obvious signs that her job was in jeopardy - Gayle took action to secure her future. She started looking for another job. Her intuition was telling her that she could not trust her manager any more, and when this happens it's time to move on. She wanted to be in charge of her career, not at the mercy of a fickle manager.

She was, of course, taking action on the worst possible scenario happening rather than stewing or distracting herself.

If her manager does not dismiss her upon his return, then that does not mean that he did not think about it. The whole point of intuition is to trust your feelings. If Gayle's manager does not dismiss her upon his return, then he changed his mind in the interim period. If asked point blank whether he had thought about dismissing her, he would deny it. Isn't that true of all situations?

Indeed, Gayle's "covering" report in the suggestion box may have worked in her favor. An executive might have contacted her manager, asking who this great ideas girl Gayle was. We are never in full knowledge of what happens behind the scenes.

Anyway, if things blow over, then Gayle intends to continue job searching at the same time as asking for a promotion or a transfer. She is happy to stay with the company, but she does not wish to work with her old manager any more. Once someone has put you through a blow over or blow up situation, they can do it again and again.

If her manager does dismiss her upon his return, or starts an overt campaign to get rid of her, then she is already well into job hunting and can leave with her self-respect intact.

So, blow up or blow over, Gayle is trusting her intuition on preliminary signs and taking charge of her life. If the situation had occurred with a friend or a lover, she would have acted similarly.

(Gayle's story first appeared as always cover yourself and is reprinted with permission.)

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