is it possible to care too much about your job?

A reader writes:

My friend and I are both in service jobs (customer service, food service, retail). My friend has had full-time and part-time supervisor positions (one step below management), while I’ve only been a part-time sales associate mostly dealing with customers.

Our main unhappiness in our jobs is not with awful customers, but with poor management, awful/stubborn bosses, and managers hiring bad employees.

Our jobs could be better if they were organized better and had better management, but we know it won’t ever change. We are the most frustrated by poor management/organization at both jobs, and no one else seems to care or isn’t as annoyed as we are.

My friend thinks it’s because we care too much at our jobs. We care too much, so we get frustrated and stressed out when things go wrong and when things don’t work out.

Do you think it’s possible to care too much at your job? Would that apply only to lower level jobs like my friend and I have?

Yes, this is a thing! A known thing! Many of us suffer from it, and it’s not confined to any particular type of job — it’s possible at any type of job, at any level.

When you find that you’re more upset that things aren’t running well than the people at the top of your organization are and that frustration is interfering with your quality of life and peace of mind, you probably care too much. The same thing is true if the amount of emotional energy that you’re putting into your job doesn’t match up with what you’re getting back from your employer. For example, if you work evening after evening because you care about getting your job done well, but your boss refuses to let you leave early one Friday when your workload allows it … well, the amount you care doesn’t line up with the amount they’re incentivizing you to care.*

And sometimes there’s real relief — even liberation — in deciding to care less. It’s not always possible, but sometimes you can make a conscious decision to let things roll off of you that used to drive you crazy. Sometimes you can tell yourself “this one is above my pay grade and I’m leaving it to the people whose job it is to worry about it.” Sometimes you can tell yourself “eh, that’s not the way I’d choose to do it, but it’s not my call and I’m going to focus on the pieces of my work that I can control and that don’t frustrate the crap out of me.”


Other times you might find that you can’t pull that off and turn off the frustration. And when that’s the case, sometimes that’s actually a sign that it’s time to leave. It’s not good for you to stay in a job that keeps you constantly frustrated. And for that matter, it’s probably not great for your company and your manager to have a constantly frustrated person around either.

* It’s sometimes more nuanced than this, of course. For example, if you’re working with kids, for example, or sick people, the amount that you care shouldn’t be dependent on how much those above you care. But even in those situations, there are limits. It’s okay to decide in those situations, “You know what, I care about these kids, but I also think this organization is fundamentally ill-equipped to serve them and I can leave this job and be helpful to the world in other ways.”

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. animaniactoo*

    I ultimately quit a job because my company always overpromised and then we worked like mad to make it happen, because the results for the customer were pretty bad if we didn’t make the deadline. The next day or the day after that isn’t good enough if they need the materials for a 3 day trade show.

    Looking back, I can see ways it could have been managed better, but it wasn’t and all I knew was that I was 23 and working 60+ hour weeks every week.

    I could never say “no” because I knew it was the customer who would ultimately suffer, so I said “no” to the whole job. And that’s how I explained it when one of the owners asked me if there was anything they could do to get me to stay. I appreciate that he asked, but leaving that job was necessary for my sanity.

    1. anonykins*

      You sound like me! I was getting paid very well but developing ulcers at 25…I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth *any* amount of money to deal with the last minute deadlines, overpromising, and just general lack of regard for my sanity. Everyone was expected to work like we were in a tech startup, and I found out that is just not for me.

    2. Amber T*

      My first job out of college was with a service company (nothing so important like medical or children related). Of course there customers that made me want to pull my hair out, but more often than not customers were either fine or enjoyable (I’m not a people person, but it wasn’t so bad for me).

      Management (or lack thereof) is what ultimately made me run for the hills. Oh, the stories I could tell… It was an awful feeling to disappoint a customer (or a vendor) because of an error on management’s part. I had no issue leaving my job because in the grand scheme of things, the service we provided was a luxury and made some things easier, but it was by no means necessary.

    3. RVA Cat*

      This seems so common with young people in their first few jobs. I wonder if some of it comes from being an overachiever in school and working so hard to get the A – then the shock of realizing that there is no adult version of the honor roll, or if there is it’s for the equivalent of the head cheerleader not the valedictorian….

      1. Tiffany*

        In my experience I’ve seen the opposite. The younger people (I’m 30 so we’re taking early 20’s…right out of college) care very little-FAR less than I do. But its totally possible that the ones I’ve been exposed to are the exception:)

  2. SimplyS*

    I wonder – does caring less at one job lead to caring less in subsequent jobs as well? Or does it feel like a fresh start when you go somewhere new?

    I’m sure it’s a bit more nuanced than that, but I would hate to lose my passion by tempering myself to care less in one position. That’s one of my great stresses right now!

    1. sunny-dee*

      For me? Overall fresh start, but also I was able to put things in better perspective, so I could start my new job with an overall better sense of balance.

      The only quibble I would have is that you care too much if the managers above you don’t seem to care that much. You could actually be caring the appropriate amount about your job and they don’t care because they suck at their jobs. But, even then, you care too much only because the situation doesn’t allow it, or because it will never be returned, not because your perspective is out of whack.

    2. Leatherwings*

      My two most recently previous positions were ones that I overcommitted to, and was constantly stressed and worried about things out of my control in both. My most recent job, I’ve found it feels like a fresh start.

    3. Jaguar*

      I think it can, but probably not as much as other bad habits from bad employers does. More conventional bad habits, like not offering your thoughts because management didn’t want input, can be hard to shake. But I’ve been (and am currently) in a place that breeds cynicism because of a perceived lack of investment from management (among other things), and when I’ve moved on to other jobs, the enthusiasm and desire to do good work cancels out the cynicism and detachment from the previous employer. So, at least in my experience, it can carry over, but the fresh start / desire to do well in a new position is a strong force acting against it.

    4. Anja*

      I moved on from my first professional job (I was there for about five years, moving up the ranks) after I ended up with five canker sores under my tongue at once due to stress – there were layoffs right before Christmas and I felt it was due to things that could’ve been planned better. I was too personally invested in that company. And am still friendly with the family that owned it. It was a great start to my career and they are good people.

      I find that in later jobs I don’t become as personally invested. I am still professionally invested; I still feel a commitment to doing good work. But I make sure that I keep my emotions out of it more. If jobs were people I’ve stopped being friends with my jobs and stay as well-meaning acquaintances.

      1. A Different KatieF*

        Oh, I really like how you phrased this, “I don’t become as personally invested. I am still professionally invested”. That perfectly describes how I feel about my work now. When I first started I was single and fresh out of grad school and my sense of self-worth and identify was really tied up in my job. Now that I’m married with a family, I still work hard and try to do a good job, but don’t feel so personally tied to it.

      2. CM*

        I agree, this is a great way to put it. I still care in that I’m still conscientious and invested in my job. But I don’t take it so personally and when things go wrong that I have no control over, it’s easier for me to accept them.

      3. Lauren in Ohio*

        Yeah, the phrase I’ve heard is “Take your work seriously, but not personally.” That distinction helped me put things in perspective.

    5. animaniactoo*

      Not to caring less – but definitely to being willing to enforce some boundaries much much sooner. Even then, it wasn’t until people with better management ideas and organization came in and had been there long enough to enact their wholesale changes that the work/life balance started to get a lot better, knowing that decisions were being made based on both what was good enough to do and what was reasonable to ask. I still wobble on the “care too much” line, I struggle with it, but it’s a known trait in my company and they’re pretty good at telling me to stand down when I need to let something go.

    6. Lena*

      It felt like a fresh start to leave. I care a lot at my job now, but the good thing is, other people care too!

    7. Amber T*

      I think overall – no. What made me care “less” at subsequent jobs was the importance of the work I was doing at previous jobs versus what I’m doing now. When I was in college, I was a building manager for my last year and a half. I had a staff of RAs to manage, a building full of underclassmen to take care of… it was a weird in between of a professional job (learning to manage peers, learning to delegate, balance of home/work life, interacting primarily with professional (adult) staff members) and student job (studies and graduating always came first). But there were times where I had to break up fights, I had to deal with a potential overdose, attempted suicides, making welfare checks, mentally taking care of my RAs… lots of stuff that got to me.

      My first job out of college was a back office job at a service company that was disorganized and an overall mess. On the one hand, it was a relief to go home at 5 and not have to worry about any work related stressers til 9am the next day, but that (and the fact that I was a 22 year old who thought she knew everything) definitely tainted my view of the importance of my job.

      I now work at a finance firm, where I’ve been known to joke that my sole purpose, as with everyone else in my company, is to make rich people richer. But the difference here versus my last job is that management knows what they’re doing, I feel valued and appreciated, and I overall like what I’m doing. I’m not saving the world by any means, but I’m good at what I do and I will continue to work hard.

    8. TootsNYC*

      I think that if you’re the sort of person who gets passionate about a job, that will always be a part of you.

  3. AndersonDarling*

    Something else to take into consideration is that if the frontline staff cares more than management, then the business is probably going to fail. So it would be good to find another place to work where management cares as much as you do.
    I think there are a few cases when the staff thinks that something is very important, but it really isn’t important on the managerial level. But if you have been working at a place for a while, you can tell what makes a big impact.
    I’ve worked at places where I was stunned at the waste of time and resources, and no one was willing to make the slightest change to improve processes. One was a fast food branch that was closed by corporate, and another was a whole business conglomerate that closed. In each case, the owners at the top cared, and the staff in front cared, but middle management just showed up to get a paycheck.

    1. Feo Takahari*

      What about when management does care and has some valid ideas, but is simply out of touch? Management at my company is headquartered in Wealthy City, and they set policies that are useful and effective in Wealthy City. Many of these policies are not as effective in Migrant Laborer Town, but management has a hard time understanding that. Both sides care about the work, and I think both sides are partly right, but it seems like a hard gap to bridge.

      1. misspiggy*

        Assuming that someone is telling management that their policies are inappropriate, they don’t care enough to listen, or to come and investigate for themselves. But if workers haven’t told management, I’d say the workers don’t care enough.

  4. Michele*

    I worked for almost a decade at one company that was run very cheaply and expected people to do more with less. When my 10 year old computer was dying, and people assumed I was late on my work due to “goofing off,” that was the final straw. Having to beg for an IT person to come by and look at it was also the icing on the cake.

  5. Winifred T*

    I worked retail for years and we lost many good people who cared about and did good work because we could not pay them more than $10/hour. In affluent suburbs of Boston, with high costs of living, mostly in places with no public transportation to work. Upper management actually told me that good people would stay with the company for the great benefits … uh, you can’t pay for a T pass with a free 1/2 pound of coffee every week (I wish). We had constant turnover and none of the 5 stores in our area were fully staffed — with retail staff or any level of store management — in the 9 years I worked there. Yes, like a bad partner the company said one thing but really *showed* us what it was … I should’ve listened a whole lot sooner!

    1. Brigitha*

      THIS times a million. I’ve been a server in mid and high cost of living areas. In the high COLAs, its astounding how out of touch owners and the general public can be. I mean, you like living in this neighborhood because it has great food/shopping/nightlife, but all the servers/retail workers/bartenders can’t afford to live here so …

      1. OP*

        “Its astounding how out of touch owners and the general public can be.”

        This comment 100+

        My job that I talked about in the letter pays so little that it’s practically impossible for anyone to support themselves. Most of them are married to someone who makes a whole lot more than they do or are financially supported by someone else.

        One of the things I’ve learned from this job is that just because you making more than $10 an hour at a part time position doesn’t translate to being able to financially support yourself when you work full-time and have to pay for everything yourself.

    2. Moonsaults*


      I try to remind my boss about this all the time but he’s too stuck in his ways to up the pay so that we can pull in people who will stick around awhile. At least he’s not nuts enough to think that there’s “good benefits” like free coffee to get people to stay on though >_<

    3. Kathlynn*

      This is something that bugs me. At my last job, I only got a raise due to minimum wage going up. And I know the company wasn’t struggling. Then we changed ownership, and the prices went up, but we didn’t see any of it. Our hours were cut, and they (illegally) refuse to pay over time, even though people are working more then 8 hours straight. Also, we lost benefits. I work now at another location, that was originally run by my old company but was bought by a different company. This company gives benefits and raises. It gives sick days, and has an Hr. But people complain about the hire costs.

      Like, don’t people realize that one of the first places owners can cut costs on is their employees’ pay check, and the cheapest places might not be the best employers.

  6. Alton*

    It’s definitely possible to care too much, and I also think that this can be relative to what you’re capable of accomplishing and how your level of caring affects you.

    The frustrating thing about a lot of retail-like jobs is that you’re a small cog in a machine that is itself a cog in an even bigger machine. A lot of what you say is relatable to me. I had a retail job that had so many frustrations, and eventually I did have to accept that there wasn’t a lot I could do about most of them. I like to think I still performed my job competently and conscientiously, but I tried not to invest too much or take it too hard when my efforts were fruitless. I tried to help out, but I also recognized that my efforts were a band-aid at best. If I could help my manager by filling in or picking up extra hours, for example, I would. But if I couldn’t, I didn’t feel guilty because I knew that my efforts alone were not going to fix the larger problems my company had with hiring, retention, and reliability. Maybe if I’d been higher up, there would have been more I could have done. But then, I saw my managers struggling with the same issues. None of us had much power to change things, and we were affected a lot by corporate policies created by departments that were very removed from us.

    And sometimes the problem isn’t that the job doesn’t deserve your level of care but that you just need some balance. Caring is good; getting burned out or carrying an unreasonable burden isn’t. I love law, but I know that losing cases and not getting everyone the justice they deserve would devastate me. I don’t want to call that caring “too much,” but it is unsustainable and unrealistic. I think ideally, you should be able to care while still having realistic expectations. But that isn’t doable in all jobs, for every person. Some jobs are really demoralizing.

  7. Danielle*

    I feel like this is SO common for customer service/retail jobs. And I think a LOT of it

    I used to work for a US clothing retailer (let’s call them New Army ;-)). I worked at a high-performing store in an urban market. Had a great management team with a boots-on-the-ground store manager who had 20+yrs in customer service and retail management, and fantastically supportive team of managers.

    Then I moved due to my partner’s job. New Army is great about store transfers, so I just transferred to the store in my new area. New store was a low-performing store in a rural market. At first I thought the performance difference was simply because the market was different–lower income part of the country, less foot-traffic because its more rural. As time went on, I could tell that the store’s performance (or lack thereof) was because most of the managers were just showing up and putting in minimum effort. I did my best and lived up to the standards I was taught at the high-performing New Army and was met with a resounding “meh. Good for you.” So I did less because I knew management didn’t care if I did well. And I got resentful. HATED going in.

    Thankfully I found a better job not too long afterward.

      1. Epsilon Delta*

        My manager once told me, “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” An oversimplification perhaps, but I’ve definitely noticed that my manager plays a huge role in how I feel about my job.

        1. Pineapple Incident*

          I don’t know about that being an oversimplification- that’s been true of every job I’ve had in a decade of working (service, medical support, and retail jobs, but still)

      2. Alton*

        I think management can be an issue at a lot of levels. Sometimes the whole company sucks. Sometimes a particular region or district is really bad. Sometimes the problem comes down to one or two managers in a particular store. Either way, the problem can trickle down.

        At my sales job, there were 11 successive managers in seven years. A couple were just filling in until someone was hired, but most were people who were hired for the position, were good for a few months, and then crashed and burned under the excessive work and expectations that were placed on them. A few were either lucky or really good and got promotions. The position was clearly not one that many people could succeed in, but it wasn’t until the end of that seven year period that it looked like they were starting to add additional management positions to take away some of the strain.

      3. Nolan*

        Management definitely plays a big part. I remember in my last retail job, I moved around to a lot of different stores, but mostly in the same district, which was a top-performing district. But there were a couple black sheep whose dysfunction always came from management. I was a contractor, so I had to deal with my own management along with the actual retail chain’s managers, so there were two potential levels of nonsense to navigate.

        So in a good store you could be relatively happy, but if your direct managers were crap that would add a weird layer of discomfort. And if store management didn’t like you or was dysfunctional, your life was hell no matter how well you got along with your direct management.

        I remember the AM at my… 3rd? store really had it out for me and I have no idea why. They would actively do things to prevent me from getting important tasks done, and then mark my team down during evaluations for those things being late. Thankfully my boss and I were on the same page and he got me out of there as soon as an opportunity presented itself, but if that had happened while I was under some of the other managers I ended up with, I probably would have gotten fired by sabotage. Do not miss that life at all.

  8. Just a Thought*

    This is so refreshing to hear! I worked for non-profits right out of college for 7 years. When I decided to make a career change one of the things I wanted was a job where people cared less. I got a lot of “side-eye” from people when I said that. Now that I’ve been out of the non-profit world for 4 years I can happily say that I still do good work in a job I like with out feeling quite so invested. (Not trying to knock the non-profits – you all do amazing work!)

  9. Former Retail Manager*

    OP…I’m not sure if you and your friend are working these types of jobs while attending school, because it works with where you are currently in your life, or if you’re working them because you want to make this your career. If you are considering making this your career, read on….

    I spent 13 years in retail with 10 of those years in management. It won’t get better and I hate to say that most of the retail management positions (store manager and above) are filled with people who either have no idea (or don’t care) what it’s like to work on the front lines with customers or who are just in this job because they fell short elsewhere in life and generally don’t have much motivation nor the passion for the job that you and your friend seem to have. Before I get backlash from any retail managers out there, I’m speaking in terms of generalities. There are great retail store, district, and regional managers out there, but they are far and few between. In my own experience, about 70% were just trying to cover their own a** and collect a paycheck by doing the bare minimum to keep their boss off their behind. Nevermind going above and beyond or trying to improve anything. They simply didn’t care, despite spouting the company rhetoric which stated that they did.

    At one point in my life, I actually intended to get a business degree and remain in retail management with the intent of moving up the chain. After years of dealing with upper management (district and above) I changed my major and decided that I simply couldn’t remain in that environment and deal with all the BS that comes with it. If you are planning to make this a career, you really need to think long and hard about whether you can tolerate the issues you’ve mentioned on a long term basis. As you progress in your retail career, the BS only gets worse.

    Regardless, I believe there is definite value in Alison’s advice and learning to impact what you can and let the rest just roll off. If you simply can’t do that, a retail career may not be for you long-term. Best of luck!

  10. Been There - Done That*

    Do know that your excellent work is noticed, even if your managers don’t seem to care, OP. Yesterday at the drive-through of a fast food place, I was so impressed by the positive and professional demeanor of the 20 something cashier that I filled out the survey to acknowledge the impression he made. I hope the compliment gets relayed to him. I know how your work can be thankless for the reasons you list and more. If it helps at all to remind yourself that you never know how the positive attitude you have to customers might change their day for the better.

    Ultimately, you may decide leaving is best for you, but in the meantime, I hope this helps.

    1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

      Not to derail too much, but I’d love to hear from someone with firsthand knowledge of how those receipt surveys actually get used. I try to fill them out most of the time because I remember what a big deal it was when I worked at Macy’s and a customer bothered to go online and click the box that said I’d provided “Outstanding” customer service. I get a LOT of good service from fast food workers, cashiers, etc and I want to get their hard work and professionalism acknowledged in the best format possible. I’ve been assuming it’s those surveys (…which also tend to get me coupons for delicious hamburgers; I’m not wholly altruistic…) but I’d be willing to make a habit of calling stores to tell a manger in person if that’s more effective.

      1. Pineapple Incident*

        When I worked in a national chain retail store which will remain unnamed, customer survey questions were scored on a 1-5 scale. Anything less than a 5 was basically coded as a zero, especially to management, who wanted to know why people didn’t think our store was perfect in every way. People put things in comments like “everything was great, but no one is perfect so I never give perfect scores” and the like. If customers knew that the scoring system was essentially binary instead of truly a 5-point scale, it might have been different; also if management actually cared about anything it could have been useful.

        Basically management wanted to use the surveys to harangue us for things we had no control over (hours cut, no staff, store never clean because we never had time, short lines at busy hours), and force stupid policies on us like referring to every customer by the name on their extracare card account (which idk about others, but I find creeeepy).

        1. Coco*

          Oh jeez, that’s awful. I’ll remember that next time I fill out a retail customer survey. Thank you for sharing!

        2. Nonono*

          Yes, this was my experience in national retail as well. The surveys only had an impact on the lowest-level employees, and all comments about the store, stock, and company policy were ignored. As well, we would be reprimanded for *not* getting surveys done. The only time we didn’t hear about the survey results was when they praised us.

        3. TG*

          Yeah, because of that, if I can’t honestly rate a 5 then I just don’t bother with customer surveys. Unless it’s really poor service, which I’ll definitely note.

        4. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

          Thank you! I definitely err on the side of giving fives. I figure if I run into a customer service problem bad enough to snipe an employee from the safe remove of my computer screen, then it was bad enough to actually talk to a manager or something in the moment. I try to keep the surveys very, very positive.

  11. Ruby*

    Pretty much every animal industry I’ve worked in has relied on people caring more than they should for their pay grade. Don’t get me wrong, welfare is important but the best thing management can do for welfare is to ensure staff don’t become burnt out.

    1. Whippers.*

      Yeah, I think that’s true in any caring industry; whether it be children, the elderly or sick people. Staff are basically emotionally blackmailed to go far beyond what they are paid for.

      It seems so wrong to me that the staff on the lower end of the scale are the ones being asked to go above and beyond because it’s a caring industry, whilst you can bet that management aren’t working hours they’re not being paid for. And at the end of the day being pressured into doing more than you should doesn’t actually benefit your clients; it benefits management and the owners of such “caring” organisations, because they are making profit from your empathy.

      1. Pineapple Incident*

        I work in a support role for nursing staff in a clinical area and that’s the *insert hospital name* way. There’s always a new piece of paperwork or new ass-kissing thing management throws at nurses to direct at patients, but their compensation never matches and they keep losing staff without re-filling those positions.

        1. Gadfly*

          I saw that when I worked in a group home as an aide in college and more recently when my husband became an RN.

          It seems to go with roles we think of as feminine. Like teachers and nurses. Be mom-like and do it for love.

          More ‘masculine’ coded jobs that ask you to care too much seem to play more on competition and try for the tech start up/eventually this pyramid scheme will pay off version of things.

          1. Whippers.*

            So true. Definitely feeds into the feminine “compassionate” ideal. Funnily enough, when I’m not that compassionate a person*, but I have a serious guilt complex about that. So when my managers tried to play on my emotions, it wasn’t my compassion but my guilt which got me to go above and beyond.

            When I say I’m not that compassionate, I just mean I don’t have an immediate, empathetic reaction to people; I also use logic. So I do feel for people, but I also anaylse the situation to think; is this person deliberately trying to play on me?

    2. Anonymity*

      Yep. Management was terrible at everything but breaking their promises, while those of us on the front lines got increasingly jaded and angry. I stayed there way too long because I cared so very much for the mission, and by the end I wanted to drive headlong into a light pole on my drive in to work.

    3. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

      YEP. This is painfully true. I’ve seen so many talented, passionate veterinary assistants leave the profession entirely to work in an office where they make, as an entry-level worker, multiple dollars an hour more for much less stressful work. It’s sad. (Not sure if it’s as bad in private practice; I’m coming from a nonprofit clinic setting.)

      1. Perse's Mom*

        Really depends on the clinic, which I think comes back to ownership/management (and is probably just as true for nonprofit clinics – my experience is in shelter work). Shit rolls downhill and all. Bad ownership causes friction with/among the vets and/or office manager(s). That causes friction with the CVTs and/or assistants and/or receptionist(s).

    4. Emma*

      This is also, ime, true of religious stores. You’re doing it for the community! For the religion! Not, apparently, for a paycheck, that’s injecting filthy lucre into a beautiful pure place.

  12. Kittens*

    Can’t remember where I ran across this phrase, but for me it comes down to the idea of the familiar hell — we stay in situations that we know are toxic or untenable because the familiarity still provides small comfort and putting yourself out there, retraining, facing the unknown (or lost wages from transition, or the scary possibility of unemployment) can be just as hard. I’ve worked low wage service jobs for the past 10 years, and as hard as it to move on from a toxic workplace (you never know, especially with this type of work, it’s easy to switch jobs to a place that’s worse!), you can still do it! But there’s also nothing wrong with deciding to stay and emotionally un-invest. That said, a company that values you and your hard work is more likely to help you carve out a path toward promotion — I know tons of people who made their way up in retail into strong, successful careers because their companies supported them. Might be helpful to think about your endgame, if that’s a possibility for you right now.

  13. Stranger than fiction*

    Boy is this timely. Op, I was just saying to my coworker this morning that we care too much about this place! People are leaving and/or being fired and Leadership refuses to pull their heads out of the sand and hear what literally everyone is saying. We keep hanging in there thinking by some miracle we’re going to be agents of change.

  14. Kyrielle*

    Another technique that sometimes helps is thinking, “Well, okay, if they want to pay us to do it this way…their choice!”

    I have a coworker who absolutely chafes at the occasional pointless meeting. (They _are_ occasional, fortunately!)

    I just remind myself that they’re happy to pay me to sit for an hour and listen to this, so I will. The fact that I don’t value it as much (and could get the same information in 5-10 minutes of reading if they were willing to let me do it – which they aren’t because, of course, many people would not bother) as they do is irrelevant. They value it enough to pay me for it.

    The procedure for teapot glazing is inefficient and makes it take twice as long? I will mention that. And if they say they know, but it’s how we make sure the glaze is consistently smooth and clear, and they don’t have time to find a better method – well, I have my answer, and I will inefficiently (but smoothly) glaze the teapots. (And if they say they know and shrug and tell me to do it anyway, same thing. I may feel less pride in it, but if they are happy to pay me to be inefficient and do not _want_ me to improve it, then so be it.)

    1. New Job Judy*

      I actually worked at a job for a while where several of us were getting frustrated because we would work hard on products that would sit so long in QA that we would have to start them over. Month to month we would find ourselves working the same projects only to see them never get anywhere. One of my co-workers decided to get some perspective and likened it to working at a tampon factory. Yes, we know what we are working on is just going to get thrown away, but we are being paid for the time we work, not what happens to the work we put out.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Nice! Not the situation, of course, but the analogy. I think I’ll keep it in my pocket (so to speak) for the next time I end up in one of those situations. The work world contains enough of them it’ll probably come in handy. :)

    2. Kai*

      Ha, this is so true. I worked at my old job for several months on a massive project that took a ton of my time and resources, and in the end it wasn’t used. It helped immensely to remember that they’d paid me the same regardless.

    3. Gadfly*

      It works for clients too. There comes a point that you just have to chant like a mantra “they are paying, this is what they want, if they want to pay for crap (bad design, bad copy, etc–I worked on ads) then I will give them what they want even if I know it is crap”.

      Employers are clients. They are paying for what they want. If they don’t want the better options, and choose to buy the bad deals that is what they want.

  15. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

    Even in place with good management, it can be A Thing.

    We have to watch out for this at Wakeen’s, watch out for each other. It’s our culture to Care A Lot, but there’s a limit where the world of teapots would eat you alive if you didn’t draw a line.

    We’re dealing with holiday stress right now, customers who waited too long, have been playing around with quotes and samples for literally months and are now making decisions when surprise, damn, look at the calendar, they need the finished order in hands in two weeks. Well guess what, the products they’ve been playing around with are all out of stock now and we’re sorry not sorry that you can’t have exactly what you want now when we have told you ALL ALONG what to expect for timelines and locking in inventory .

    We’re going to help and we’re going to work hard to get you something you need but we draw the line at being personally upset at disappointment that’s your own damn fault.

    It’s an interesting culture to manage, hiring caring, passionate people and encouraging them to dial back the care for their own well being as necessary.

    1. Gadfly*

      I worked in print advertising. Right about now people who were given deadlines of a month ago are demanding that they be able to buy into Black Friday ad supplements that printed at least a week ago. And their sales reps are frantically trying to do something about it. And management is trying to get them to breathe and tell them no (while also telling them alternative possibilities.)

  16. CDM*

    You can only “care too much” when you can’t change the dynamic.

    If you have the opportunity to effect meaningful change, you will never feel like you care too much, you will feel like you are making a difference, making things better for yourself and for others.

    I spent years at OldJob being pressured about things that were out of my control, and things that upper management actively took away our tools to meet goals. It was very liberating to start saying to myself, “I’m only going to care as much as I’m being paid” and let go of the things I couldn’t change (well, mostly. It’s impossible to do entirely when you have a conscience).

    But it also wasn’t much of a step from that decision to the decision to get out of there entirely. I finally had it hammered home that nothing was going to change materially, and there was little reason to stay.

    Those of us who really cared are mostly gone, and reading public information through the lens of my experience, it appears that the department is doing half the work that it used to. Management doesn’t appear to know, or care, how they negatively impacted their bottom line with their dysfunction.

    If you are feeling like you care too much, it’s definitely time to take a long hard look at the situation to determine if it’s time to go look for a job where caring makes you happy, not unhappy.

    1. Jean*

      >”…time to go look for a job where caring makes you happy, not unhappy.”
      Been there & done that but you’ve summarized the situation so nicely! I’m saving this for possible future use. Thank you.

  17. Pari*

    For the record I don’t think of it as actually caring less if you don’t let those things bother you. For me it’s more a realization that there are times in every company when things go badly. When bad managers are hired, when the wrong leadership is in place, when processes are Inefficient-times when I will be unhappy. ultimately I’ve learned to base my happiness on the long term success, not any short term ebb or flow.

  18. ArtK*

    Welcome to my life. It’s been a problem at several places where I’ve worked.

    The current one isn’t a matter so much of others not caring enough, but a lot of selfishness. People care, passionately, but only about one or two things, often a specific customer. It’s very hard when my team (software development) has to balance work for all customers. Then there are the people who very deliberately hoard information. We had to beg for access to contract documents and then dig through them to find out what had been promised to customers. Some of which are things that we can’t do; we could have softened the commitment to something manageable had they talked to us before signing. IOW: They make commitments that we have to keep, but they won’t tell us what those commitments are until they become a problem.

  19. NW Mossy*

    I have a great “caring too much” success story today. Almost 2 years ago, I recommended to my grandboss that we needed to revisit a process. The details aren’t so important, but the basic issue is that the output of that process was a go/no-go decision and there’s an overall cultural problem with the business not accepting a no-go decision. It’s one of those things that causes a ton of grumbling but no one really felt like they had enough authority to change it. That said, it chapped my hide so much to see good work getting thrown out the window and us taking on risk that didn’t make sense, so I kept nagging about it.

    Lo this long time later, it finally progressed to the point where I presented to my division’s senior leadership on the topic today and pitched recommendations on some tweaks to the process and sought buy-in to move forward with the new model that will enforce no much more strongly. It was so awesome to sit across from the head of the division and hear him say “Everyone here agrees – go forward.” I’m normally not much of a salesperson, but when you can sell Sales on something that you know they’re not going to like all that well, it’s a pretty sweet feeling.

  20. Beer Thirty*

    I think a good portion of upper management and HR folks care too much about stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter. Like performance reviews, how many hours people are in the office, writing procedures for every little thing that we do, saying the right things at meetings, always being a “team player” (or at least giving that perception), etc.

    I think I have the opposite problem of the OP. I care less than most of the folks around me. When it comes to most of the stuff that the higher ups think is so important, I just DGAF.

  21. Moonsaults*

    I would have stayed at my last job even longer than the decade I had already invested if the “management” issue had been resolved. Instead it burnt me out in the end and I ran far away from the whole thing. The management in my situation were the owners at the time, they were hands off and I was supposed to run the ship but had no authority to shake things up where it needed to be (the deadbeat workers that had been there for years and been let to slack, so production was atrocious most the time. The fighting between the deadbeats was the icing on the cake.)

    It’s impossible for me not to care, it’s not within me to do so. So my health and thankfully my life pulled me away at the last moment. I got a “get out of jail free” card almost when my BF was transferred to a different city and “oh dear, well now I do have to pull the plug on this.”

    Thankfully now, they did sell and they got some management in there, my sources back at the old factory tell me that 95% of the BS is fixed and it’s nice to have someone who “believes in them” again. It warms my heart now that I’m properly removed from the whole place. Before I was like “If it were to be swallowed by a sinkhole…life would be so much better for everyone.”

    Since I’m known to care too much, it’s driven my career to great heights along the way. I think the main thing you need to remember is if you care more than higher management folks, you should do yourself a favor and find somewhere else to focus your energy.

  22. Susan*

    Hmm, interesting topic. I have been accused of caring too much, but I’m also in a job with the potential to affect public safety. The thing that trips me up is that I feel like I get mixed messages from management on how much I should care. If I bring up a problem with something minor, they tell me I should have let it go, and yet if I do let something go (or I just don’t happen to notice a problem early enough to correct it), they blow a gasket and lecture us about what a terrible job we’re doing and we’re just *lucky* that it didn’t have major consequences this time. I feel like I’m in a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation.

    Management also drills into us from day one the importance of doing our jobs correctly, due to the potential to affect public safety. The message they give us over and over is that most major disasters are caused by a chain of small problems that shouldn’t have been a big deal on their own, but combined to result in catastrophe, and that’s why it’s crucial for us to do our jobs perfectly every single day. You never know when a minor mistake or problem will be a part of a chain event that becomes a disaster. I have taken this message to heart, but maybe I’m just gullible?

    1. Geeky Engineer*

      Speaking as an Engineer – it is absolutely correct that the vast majority of major disasters happen because a chain of minor problems and/or mistakes suddenly combine in such a manner to cause a major issue. It’s very rare for an accident to have one root cause.

      I would suggests you document every problem you see and report it to management in writing. With luck it will spur the bosses into resolving the issue.

      If nothing is done, at least you have documented the issue.

      Sometimes it will lead to an angry reaction to easing safety concerns, but that’s a good sign that you want to go and work for someone else

  23. James*

    I notice that “caring” here is a negative concept–all of the emotions applied to it are those associated with distress. Nothing is associated with eustress, and I’m not sure that’s an accurate picture. I can easily see where caring too much about a job can be problematic even if you enjoy it. In fact, I’d be MORE worried about cases where you care too much about your job and don’t notice it. It’s like cold days: in the summer everyone remembers to drink water, but in the winter they forget and get severely dehydrated.

    Susan, I would say not to take that message to heart. In my experience, upper management addresses safety not as safety, but liability–they don’t care if someone gets hurt, only that they don’t get blamed for it. No amount of planning can stop a 10 km bolide from colliding with the planet, after all (this usually sways the crowd in groups of geologists and engineers, but probably won’t among accountants who don’t get the reference). But I’ve become extremely cynical about that topic.

    1. Mazzy*

      It can be negative. I put all of my time into one job which was ultimately taken over during a takeover when we were bought out, and my replacement only did 8 hours a day and her motto was “not my job.” It was very grating and the anger over that stuck with me for years. I know my work life balance had been way off but I thought there would be some reward at the end of the tunnel.

      1. Jean*

        “I know my work life balance had been way off but I thought there would be some reward at the end of the tunnel.”
        Sometimes there is no reward at the end of the tunnel, except for the opportunity to dig oneself out by going in a different direction because the original tunnel came to a dead end. It stinks, but life is not always fair.
        Or the fairness comes in being able to get the message when the entire situation is screaming “this is dysfunctional! Run run run!”

  24. tigerlily*

    I so appreciate your last asterixed paragraph. That is how I’m feeling right now. I’m an admin at a preschool, and while I absolutely ADORE the kids, I’m struggling a ton with the rest of our admin staff – especially our Executive Director. She refuses to set clear boundaries and policies (either with our parents or with staff), wanting instead to treat everything on a case by case basis. And while I believe she thinks she’s being more equitable this way – because yes, every person and every circumstance is different – what is actually happening is that we have to reinvent the wheel every time things come up, and people are being treated wildly different not because of their circumstances and needs (which would be equitable) but because of our director’s whim of the day. I do what I can to advocate for clearer boundaries and policies – things I genuinely think will make our organization better for everyone involved (students, parents, staff – everyone) – but our director is too wishy-washy and scattered to make any kind of decision. And the few times she does make a decision and set a boundary, she’ll go back on it almost immediately. Like I said, I love these children and it breaks my heart to think about not seeing them everyday, but I’m about at the point where I need to leave for my own piece of mind. So I appreciate hearing that I can care about these students, but if I need to leave and work somewhere I feel better about, that’s okay.

    1. Whippers.*

      Oh god, that sounds exactly like my previous manager for a disability charity. She would constantly change criteria of what sort of disabilities we catered for, until noone knew who we were allowed to take on. Although in her case she wasn’t doing it because she cared about people, she just liked the ego trip of changing her mind all the time and people having to fall in with her.

  25. Lady Julian*

    I work as a college-level teacher, and even in my job, caring too much is a thing.

    It’s my goal to put a lot of work into my lessons so that my students succeed.

    But I also take care of myself, going to bed at a reasonable time every night and getting up at a reasonable hour; taking time on the weekends and evenings to enjoy non-teaching hobbies such as reading, cooking, and running; and making progress on long-term professional goals.

    And to do that, I’ve learned to care a little less about my job. I still care about my students, but I don’t care that some lesson plans are not aligned with the most recent research, and I don’t care that some of the tests/quizzes/projects I assign are more multiple choice questions and less real-life applications. And that’s okay . . . because I can either be a good teacher, or I can be a human being.

  26. Burn Out*

    In nonprofits in particular there is a thing called “Compassion Fatigue” which happens when people have given 110% for too long without recognition, rest, reflection or relief. The people become burnt out and don’t have anything left to give and don’t have anything to show for all their hard work.

    And just because an organization is a “nonprofit” does not mean that it is a “charity.” I previously worked at an educational institution that was a nonprofit, but most of the students came from decidedly upper-class families. They did offer a fair number of scholarships to lower-income students, and an even larger number of partial scholarships to middle-income students. Even with a partial scholarship, it was still definitely a financial strain for most of thoe students. I know the institution did not pay most of their employees adequately or give them the tools they needed to do their jobs.

    It was sort of like the WalMart of nonprofits, with a high rate of employee turnover that seemed to be built into the operating model. Supposedly all the executives (who made 6 figure incomes) could have made much more money working somewhere else, but they stayed because of their commitment to the institution and its mission. (Personally, I’m skeptical about this.)

    As time goes by, I am starting to think that more of these “nonprofits” that can’t afford to pay their employees decently need to just shut down.

    1. tigerlily*

      I don’t know what exact educational field you’re in, but there is just NO money in Early Childhood Education. It’s crazy how little some teachers make. I spoke above about my Director having a hard time creating boundaries and policies, but this is another area in which I struggle with her on. Partly she just doesn’t have any HR or employment law background, so she just doesn’t know these things, but when I come to her to say not paying the cook overtime when she worked more than 40 hours a week is illegal or that our teacher team leader needs to be paid for the time outside of work hours she spends scheduling subs she reacts as if I’m doing something TO her. Like by advocating for our staff I am personally taking money away from the tuition assistance program and the children of low income families. It can be incredibly disheartening to hear her talk about wanting everyone to have a livable wage, but then pull this crap.

      I am very lucky that most of the nonprofits that I’ve worked at are pretty adamant about promoting self-care and making sure everyone can use their PTO (even my current employer). If you’re going to be working in nonprofit or social services, it is so very important to make sure you take care of yourself first (you can’t put on someone else’s oxygen mask, if you haven’t put on your own first.)

  27. AGirlCalledFriday*

    This is actually one of the issues I see in education today. I’m a teacher, and I work with so many loving and very professional people. But – and maybe I’m noticing it more because I’ve taught overseas previously – all I’m seeing lately is that teachers are getting crapped on – low pay, incredibly overworked, disrespected…and everything is ok because we are supposed to care about our job more than we care about…say…having a bathroom break. I’ve seen in two schools back to back, the teachers walking around like sombies because everyone is so incredibly exhausted and there’s no end in sight, the workload just gets bigger and bigger, and the kids are needier and needier, the behavior problems are more exorbitant.

    I suppose this is really similar to some aspects of healthcare where people aren’t compensated properly for the work they do,’or nonprofit. It’s just really sad for me that so many great people are abused precisely BECAUSE “they care”.

    1. Another Emily*

      Teachers here spend a decent amount of their own hard earned salary on classroom supplies, which I think is insane but also understandable. No teacher wants to say “sorry kids, you have to share the last piece of graph paper” but by making up the shortfall, they take away the management’s problem.
      Not blaming the teachers here, it’s a lose-lose situation.

      1. Techfool*

        Agreed, it’s hard to strike the balance but it’s important to spread the pain around. Keep a running total of how much you spend and remind them of it.

  28. House of Gourds*

    I think the design industry also is filled with a lot of people who care too much. We all entered into the field after years of teaching that we need to use design to change the world… only to be thrust into the real world where when the client asks you to jump, you have to say how high, and here are ten options of how I should jump which one will you like (after which the client asks for a eleventh option of jumping which is a hybrid of option two and option seven).
    It is a sad truth that managers relies on this kind of passion, because they sure as heck can’t pay much, so they leverage this PASSION to demand entry level staff work 70 hour weeks, and shame people who cannot give as much.

    I am not bitter at all. AT ALL.

  29. Stranger than fiction*

    I think I have this weird fantasy, almost obsession, that if I just get my chance to be heard and they take some of my suggestions, and it’s successful and turns the company around, I’ll be like this super hero and say “yeah, I did that”. (Sorry for the extremely long sentence)

  30. Adam*

    I had this issue years ago when I was working in a family-oriented department store…if I were to say which one I bet a lot of people wouldn’t be surprised that it sucked.

    That place frustrated the hell out of me. It seemed like nothing ever worked right and the upper management expected us to bring the Apollo 13 crew home using no more energy than it takes to run a coffee pot.

    Thing is, I never wanted this job, but it was 2009 and the economy was terrible and it was this or nothing. I was looking for a new job a month after I was hired because I never intended to stay (even though it ended up being a little over a year *shudder*) and STILL all the frustrations drove me crazy.

    I finally realized that it was my own nature of wanting to do well at my job even if I couldn’t stand it because I considered myself a hard worker. Even though the job sucked I wanted to do it to the best of my ability, but all the crazy things that got in my way were preventing me from doing that in my mind. And that was embarrassing, especially when the mishaps happened in front of customers and all I could do was apologize profusely and look like an idiot.

    My last day I practically skipped out the front door.

  31. Cap Hiller*

    Someone mentioned above – for me I get unbelievably frustrated when I can’t change something but feel like I or someone should be able to. What annoys me about my reaction is that it’s almost more physical than mental. Nervous system kicks in and it’s like I get sucked into the stress. My therapist says it’s because I get on myself for getting all worked up instead of just riding it out

  32. Geeky Engineer*

    I have certainly fallen into the caring too much trap far too often in my life. At a previous job I actually ended up admiring the lead engineer who didn’t care at all.

    Every engineering company has got “That Project”. That Project which was badly thought through from day one, That Project which totally spiralled out of control, That Project which can’t be killed but can never be a success. Even by the standards of That Project, this one was a doozy!

    Amoungst the things the lead engineer did was:

    * Refusing to work late under any circumstances (“I have to pick up my kids from school, and if to choose between letting them down or letting you down, well that’s only going to work out one way”)

    * Refusing to work weekends (or even answer his phone)

    * Laughing in the face of the project manager when she told him to cancel his holiday

    *Taking the holiday anyway

    * Calling the project manager an idiot to her face (she had made a stupid decision against the advice of the engineers)

    *Calling the customers idiots (thankfully not to their faces)

    *Telling the Engineering director that the project was an unsalsvage mess and he wasn’t willing to destroy his life trying to put it right.

    *Leaving me massively in the lurch on a customers site when I was new to the company. He refused to provide phone support after his normal working hours (I was working late) which lead to me making a mistake which lead to a formal complaint being raised against me.

    I fully expected him to be fired on several occasions but he never was.

    He said to me that I shouldn’t accept doing any extra for free as if I gave them an inch they would take a mile and he turned out to be right.

    After numerous cancelled holidays, constant 90+ hour weeks (while being paid for 37 hours) and having to bite my tongue on numerious occasions, I finally quit in absolute disgust. I had totally trashed my life and damaged my health by that stage.

    As 99% of my work on the project was firefighting, despite the crazy hours none of the underlying issues were addressed during my time there. In fact I think my efforts merely delayed the point where the senior management had to admit that they had royally screwed up and they couldn’t deliver what was promised.

    In short, I wish I had taken his advice!

  33. boop the first*

    Considering the description of bad management and bad hiring I would disagree that the frustration is simply all in your head. But then maybe I’m stuck in the perspective of “caring too much”?

    It’s just weird, because I don’t value my job very much (I feel societal shame and nothing I do is important or valuable in any way whatsoever), but I still get very frustrated with bad management because it affects my ability to do my work, after all. Even if I don’t feel an ounce of passion, I still strive to have a good rep.

    I can’t turn off these frustrations when bad hiring leads to dumping a lot of extra work onto me (made WORSE when I “don’t care about the work”), grossing me out with bad sanitation, or sending me into a panic when I run out of supplies and can literally no longer complete my work. Do I be the “bad worker” and just stop working? I don’t know.

    There’s a limit, of course. I turn a blind eye when people goof off and act dangerously. I may refuse to do unsanitary practices (like putting handled unpackaged food product back on the shelf for example), but shrug if the manager doe it instead. I may scrupulously follow dumb policy/instruction, even if it causes me to fall behind because it’s management’s fault if nothing is finished as a result.

    But there still leaves a lot of chronic frustration that you can’t just turn off by not caring, because in a lot of jobs, to feel relief by not caring so much would require just not showing up to the job at all, because just everything is bad. And that’s what you are referring to when you are describing your “bad hires” – people who stop caring at all.

  34. Shelix*

    Hoooo boy. I am so totally in this situation, and i’m not in retail or “less emotionally demanding” work. It’s a conundrum that is bothering basically my entire department and a few associated departments.

    We make teapots of the sort that cure diseases. I should say we synthesize teapots, which we can just call medicines/drugs instead of teapots. The work is Serious Business. No compound i personally make will ever go into a human, but the improvements on the synthesis i come up with when implemented at our manufacturing plant DO go into humans. So i, and 95 % of my department, take our work incredibly seriously because we have ethics and morals and care deeply about every medicine we work on. Even those for psoriasis or warts or pink eye, just as intensely as those for cancer or heart disease, human lives are still at stake.

    The problem is, management cares only about money and numbers. They seriously do not understand what it is we do that makes them money, and treat us terribly. Outdated equipment, lousy benefits, below market average pay, crumbling facilities. They are the only employer for medicinal chemists within about 100 miles, so we all make a choice to put our personal lives we’ve invested in over our professional happiness in order to not relocate. But damn, the burnout is getting to so many of us. Nightmares, insomnia, depression, anxiety. As a department, we’ve got it all.

    If anyone has constructive advice besides relocating (which most of us are considering but many of us have to wait for things like an SO to finish a degree program, or selling a house in a terrible economy, kids in school, parents in assited living, etc) i think we could all use it.

  35. emma2*

    I kind of disagree with this definition of “caring too much.” Caring more than management should not automatically equate to caring too much, lest the management be full of idiots (which I have seen in a couple of companies.) I do think that it is important to have a work/life balance.

  36. Techfool*

    “If they want to pay me to waste time on this, that’s up to them ” as I call IT for the upteenth time about the same problem.

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