I thought I’d print this exchange I recently had with a reader, to demonstrate why it’s often helpful to speak up when your unhappy. Here’s the reader’s initial message to me:
I left my job of five years — right decision. I accepted a new job. It’s a better cultural fit, I love my team, and I’m proud of the work we’re doing. The boss is brilliant and I’m learning a lot. High-prestige position, one of the senior members of the company. In many ways, it’s a dream job. I’ve been there for a month.
Unfortunately, despite me asking questions in the interview process about work/life balance — and explaining that if this is a “no personal life” job, I’m not the right candidate — but there is none. NONE. I’m pulling 70-hour weeks, which is not what we discussed during interviewing. I am so busy that I eat only two meals a day (delivery—yech), I barely have time to go to the bathroom, and I still can’t finish the tasks in front of me. I don’t read websites or go on Facebook, I don’t chit-chat with coworkers, I just WORK all day. Very fast pace.
I’m becoming depressed, I’ve snapped at my boyfriend (who I love dearly—I NEVER snap at him), and I’m perpetually exhausted and anxious. I get maybe half a day off each Sat/Sun and I spend most of that time trying to catch up on sleep. I cry at least a few times a week. This is not who I want to be.
I just need more time to adjust, right? Except the other people are working similar hours, even those who’ve been here for a year or two. There are problems in processes and in the inadequate staffing. The only silver lining is that a new high-ranking colleague wants to create work-life balance. She understands that this workload is not OK, and I have calmly told her that I’m happy to be there, but that I physically and mentally cannot continue to work like this. She’s wonderful — if it weren’t for her, I would have quit in the first week. I know she can’t change things overnight, but I also don’t know if she CAN change the culture there. Sometimes, it’s just the way a place is. Staffers have told me that “a lot of people quit after two or three months” because they cannot handle the pace and workload.
I love the work and I like the people. But I don’t like working all the time and on a fundamental level… while I work hard, I don’t live to work. My gut tells me that I should leave now before I become miserable; I’d like to stick it out for at least six months, but I don’t know if I can keep going like this. And if I quit, I worry that my professional reputation will be damaged.
What do you think I should do? Leave now, inflame my boss, and eat the $2,000 moving stipend I’d have to repay? Wait it out until, say, June, and hope that the sympathetic bigwig can effect change by then? My ego, reason, and pride (ok, and bank account) all say “stay in the job” but my gut says “run like hell.”
I replied: “If you’re going to leave anyway, I don’t think sticking it six months is any more useful than just starting to look now. But I’d talk to them about that fact that you were clearly told one thing in the job interview process and another is true, and that you’d like them to waive the repayment requirement because you were very clear that they shouldn’t offer you the job if it was this type of thing!”
Here’s her response:
I wound up talking with my boss and pretty much laid it out (without implying that I was going to quit immediately). I took your suggestion to heart and mentioned that in the interview process, I’d specifically been told that the hours were NOT 75-80 hour weeks. She agreed that my workload is too heavy, and she posted job listings for two new staffers who should be able to help me out. She’s already been interviewing people, and she’s been checking in to see how I’m doing.
So, for the time being, I still feel like this is not going to be a long-term job, but since she is clearly trying to improve things, I’m going to stick it out and see if things improve. And if not, then…time to move on for sure.
Thank you again for your smart thoughts. You really helped me get perspective.
Speaking up often gets you what you want, or at least closer to what you want. Not always, certainly, but enough that it’s an option that you should at least be considering when you’re unhappy — not assuming it’s not even on the table, as so many people do.