how can 20somethings know if something is worth complaining about or leaving a job over?

I’m on vacation and damn it if I’m not going to re-run a blog post so I don’t have to write a new one. This one is from August 15, 2013.

A reader writes:

If one is unhappy at their work, whether it’s due to their actual responsibilities or problems with their bosses, coworkers, clients, etc., how would one then determine whether it’s a legitimate grievance that grants the right to action, such as speaking to one’s manager, looking for another job, or even resigning without having found another job, or whether it’s a normal part of the working condition that will improve or one just needs to get used to.?

I understand that this is a very general question that does not have the same answer to every situation, but is there a general rule that one can go by? And does money, experience, length of stay, etc. have any impact on the answer to the first question? For example, does it matter if one if unhappy at a job that pays $25K, $50K, or $150K, or whether they have been at their place for 5 months, 1 year, or 5 years?

Those from “older generations” say that individuals my age and generation (late 20s, Generation Y) are just lazy, irresponsible, and think we have the right to a perfect job right out of college. I understand their point and maybe we (the Generation Y) need to lower our expectations, but I have also known people who stayed at jobs that were making them utterly miserable for years. It’s similar to divorce: not too long ago, people stayed in a really bad marriage for the sake of the children or because of societal pressures; however, now, people get divorced at the first sign of diminished passions. So how does one find that balance between not giving up too easily and also not falling into dutiful martyrdom?

You’re right that there’s not  one across-the-board rule, because it depends on the specifics of the situation — but in general, a few principles are worth considering:

First, the more in-demand you are, the more able you are to speak up when you’re unhappy and to walk away for something better. If you’re not an especially marketable candidate, you don’t have as much ground to stand on when insisting on something better (or options to turn to if you don’t get what you want). That’s why people often find it a bit silly when less experienced people leave jobs over complaints that are common or relatively minor in the scheme of things — although it’s of course still reasonable when the issues are bigger. (I’d put harassment, real cruelty, chronically broken promises, and being expected to do something illegal, immoral, or unsafe in the “bigger issues” category.)

But complicating things is that fact that when you’re less experienced, you can’t always judge the relative seriousness of an issue very well. The more experience you have in the work world, the better perspective you’re able to have when it comes to figuring out if the thing troubling you is:
* common and not really a big deal
* truly outrageous
* something you can or can’t realistically avoid wherever you go
* something worth taking a stand over
It’s often hard to judge those things well when you don’t have tons of experience.

You asked how to tell if something warrants a wide list of actions, including speaking to your manager, looking for another job, or resigning without having another job. In general, the latter is something most people need to avoid, both because it can take a really long time to find another job and because you’re generally less attractive to new employers once you’re unemployed, which will make what might have already been a long job search even longer and harder. There are some things that warrant quitting without another job lined up, but they’re pretty rare.

But as for speaking to your manager, a good manager will want to know if you’re unhappy about something, particularly if you’re contemplating leaving your job over it. Of course, as with anything, your specific complaint (and the way you approach it) can reflect on your judgment. If you go to your manager because you’re frustrated spending three hours a day in useless meetings, that’s reasonable. If you go to her because you’re annoyed you don’t get senior-level projects when you’ve only been on the job for a year, that’s going to make you look naive. So you also want to factor in how reasonable an objective observer would find your concern, and — importantly — how equipped you are to make that call. If you’re pretty inexperienced, it’s important to recognize that that probably impacts your ability to assess this stuff.

All of this points to proceeding with caution when you’re relatively new to the work world — and testing your assessment of a situation with people you respect who have more experience to draw on. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to push back on something or leave a job if you’re unhappy — that’s your prerogative at any time. But it’s wise to make sure that you understand the potential consequences of that action and how it’s likely to be perceived by people around you — and that’s the piece that I think is sometimes missing when people are less experienced, and what has led to some of the stereotypes that you describe.

{ 133 comments… read them below }

  1. The Supreme Troll*

    This is where observing from and learning the work culture helps and comes into play.

  2. Junior Dev*

    Alison’s advice here is excellent. I think unemployment has decreased since 2017, so it may be a little easier to find a new job, but even so it’s going to be relatively tough for someone new to the workplace.

    I think this is covered by a lot of the scenarios mentioned, but I want to add another “you should look for another job” indicator: if you’re regularly miserable at work, miserable about going to work, or so unhappy with your job it impacts your productivity. I got laid off last year from a job where the culture was so toxic I had to go cry in the bathroom on a regular basis, which of course made me less productive and made my boss and coworkers see me as less reliable. I really should have started searching for something new sooner, that place was bad for my health. But I was convinced I had to stick it out to fix the perception I was a “job hopper.” It would have been better to get another job and quit the toxic one.

    1. The data don't lie*

      I worked for 1.5 years at a job where I sat in my car in the parking lot every morning for like 10 minutes trying to pep-talk myself into going inside. I finally found another job and quit and then wished I had done it sooner. But I didn’t want to look like a quitter so that’s part of why I stayed.

      My new job also paid 30% more which was a nice bonus. :) .

    2. Dan*

      You said “fix the perception that I was a ‘job hopper'”. Can I assume from your usage of the word “fix” that you in fact had said perception? I think the perception of being a job hopper is important. I don’t make this point quite so succinctly in my own post, but if one has a series of short term jobs, say one year or less, one is indeed likely to be perceived as a job hopper. At some point, that’s going to be an obstacle that is far harder to overcome, and I think that every once in awhile one has to stick it out to counter that perception.

      1. Millennial*

        I’m so curious about the “job-hopper” perception for those new to the work force. What’s too much vs. what’s acceptable because you’re young and learning what you want to do in life?

        I know so many people my age who are still figuring out what career they want to pursue for the rest of their life, so they try lots of different jobs, each for about a year or so. At what point does something like that become an issue?

        And how long do you have to stay at a job for it to not seem like you’re job-hopping?

        1. AliceW*

          It probably depends somewhat on the field you are in and the particular job. I work in finance and hire for junior level positions at a large company. If someone has three recent jobs and stayed at them for a year or less I wouldn’t interview them. It can take companies 6 months to 1 year to train someone. I want to see at least one job where the applicant stayed 2-3 years, preferably longer.

        2. PoorDecisions101*

          I think it depends on the hiring manager. My work history is 6 years, 2 years and 2 years, but at a recent interview, I was grilled as a job hopper over my 2 x 2 year stints. Consequently, I’m thinking with my latest move to try to stay longer.

      2. LBK*

        I must admit I’m kind of baffled by one of my friends who has somehow managed to have a job at a new company almost once a year since I met him. So far not one of them has apparently looked at his resume and thought “Gee, I bet he’s going to get bored in a year and leave like he has with every other job in the last 5 years. Maybe we shouldn’t bother hiring him.”

        Personally I want to smack him every time he says he’s already job hunting at a place he just barely finished training at, but it’s worked out pretty well for him so far, so more power to him, I guess.

        1. Manders*

          It might be a combination of his field and his skillset, and maybe his geographic area too. There are some areas where it’s common to hit the ground running, keep running for a year or two, and then move on to the next thing. I live in an area where the churn and burn mentality is very much alive and well, and many people are hired on 11-month contracts that might not be renewed.

          Of course, I have also met people who just kept getting solid professional jobs and losing them or leaving them within a year. I honestly don’t know how they did it (and I suspect a few of them were not being 100% honest on their resumes).

        2. AnonAcademic*

          Maybe he interviews really well and has genuine enthusiasm for the new positions (that may well fade within the first year)? Or it could be industry based…my partner has either left or been laid off from his last several jobs at the 1.5 year point, and all interviewers seem to care about is the projects he completed in that time and what skills he has because his industry is a job seekers market right now.

        3. Chaordic One*

          Increasingly, I think that a lot of employers are hiring people with the expectation that their new employees are only going to stay with them for a year or so before moving on to something else. The employers don’t really offer much in the way of advancement or incentive to stay beyond the pathetic 3% raise which they try to pass off as being based on merit, but which is only keeping up with inflation. Furthermore, employers really don’t seem to care about retention. There’s always someone new they can hire to replace you with, who’ll probably work for even less.

      3. Junior Dev*

        Yeah, I’d had a lot of jobs for a short period of time each, but I also work in software development, where having a job for a short time period is pretty common. I got laid off from that place after 3 months, which is still considered short. My point in this case was that I was doing so badly, due to being miserable, that I couldn’t actually fix the job-hopper perception because I didn’t keep the job.

        I now work at a job I really like–I’ve been here 5 months. I actually like and respect my co-workers and boss. It pays less than a lot of similar jobs in my industry but the culture is much better than many of the tech companies I know of, so I’m ok with that.

        I think there comes a certain point where you can’t just force yourself to do a good job at something you hate. I bought some headphones from a big-box store and the guy who sold them to me was talking about how much he hated his job and badmouthing the company–I sympathized with him, but if he’d said those things to someone more likely to complain to management he probably would have lost his job. I know many people are less privileged than me and have to find ways to keep doing things they hate, but it doesn’t seem to be a skill I possess. I think if you’re so unhappy you can’t do your job effectively, it’s not actually helping your career to force yourself to stay.

    3. k*

      Yep, if it’s making you that miserable it’s okay to leave. Even if there isn’t a reason that everyone can understand, it could just be such a bad fit for you that leaving is what’s right. If you work full time, you’re spending a good chunk of your life at work, and you shouldn’t spend most of your life being miserable if you can help it.

      1. FlibertyG*

        Even if you’re miserable, I think leaving without a plan is something you can probably only get away with once or maybe twice, if they’re far spaced out, in your career. If it’s your very first job ever and you’ll have no experience without this job – even a job that makes you cry in the car – I’d say try to get through a year. If you’ve earned yourself more wiggle room by past successes, you can probably start looking sooner.

        1. BF50*

          I don’t know that I agree here. For your first job, you don’t have a history of job hopping because you don’t have a job history. If you can find a new job after only a few months at your first job, take the new job and eventually, you can drop the first job off your resume.

          You may not be able to *find* a new job with such limited experience, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t *look* for a new job.

          Being a job hopper is something to be weary of, but the problem arises when it’s a pattern. If someone will hire you without the consistent job experience, and it removes you from a toxic environment, then you should take it.

          If you are on your 2nd or 3rd or 4th job that you are looking to leave after less than 2 years, then you need to stay, but you also need to look at what is causing you to repeatedly end up in that position.

          1. FlibertyG*

            I guess it’s true that if you quit fast enough (within 2-3 months), you haven’t really hurt your chances so much over what they were before. Unless it’s a small industry and word gets around that you bailed.

              1. Dan*

                That is true, and a good point. This is where track record *really* matters in my opinion, if you’ve had 2-4 positions you were at for more than two years that account for a good chunk of your working life, and then one position you bailed on in two months, that’s going to come across as “otherwise reliable worker ended up in a position with a terrible fit, or a place that looks great from the outside and waits until after orientation to unfurl enough red flags to make a North Korean military parade jealous.”

                Personally when I’m pondering career moves One question I ask myself is “what narratives could this tell, what narrative can I tell with it and what narratives may people assume from it?”

  3. TeacherNerd*

    Also, age can have less to do with lowering your expectations. Sometimes one just needs a job – anything that pays – and I say that as someone who, in her mid-30s (not that long ago) who took an $8/hr. position in a daycare, despite having a mostly-completed graduate degree, because I had been unemployed for years and I needed to, you know, eat. (I was also living with my parents, which doesn’t get less embarrassing the older one gets.) This was a job, by the way, that required me to bring in a doctor’s note if I called out sick, and when I couldn’t get to work one day because of really bad weather (I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania – I know how to drive in snow; it’s more difficult to drive in and on ice), and I was threatened with disciplinary action.

    I quit after three months because I was offered a position teaching at the local community college. I really enjoyed seeing my coworkers’ expressions when I told them about my new job. One jaw actually dropped, and my boss stopped talking to me. Yes, I absolutely stuck out a terrible, low-paying job in which I was treated like a never-before-employed 14-year-old because I simply needed SOMETHING, but I did my job, showed up on time, kept my head down, did not take part in pervasive malicious gossip, and kept job hunting.

    It can be difficult to know what constitutes a valid reason for complaining until you get more work experience, but if something is genuinely bothering you, you could always frame it is, “I realize this may not be a big issue, but I’m trying to figure out how to resolve this issue; what say you?” I still encounter things along these lines, and I’m over 40 and been teaching for a number of years now.

    1. Alice*

      TeacherNerd, I also felt embarrassed about living with my parents, long after college. I paid them below-market rent. Then I moved away, and all of us miss it. We shared responsibilities for cooking, shopping, taking care of the cat; I drove them places. For us — and I know it’s not true for everyone — for us, all of us, it worked really well. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been embarrassed at all; if it works for everyone involved then why should random people get to make you feel ashamed?
      Signed, a random person on the internet…. But seriously, if that was the best solution for you at the time and you were solicitous of your housemates (who happened to be your parents), what’s the problem?

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I cannot second this enough. I had my daughter very young and we lived with my mother for a long time. Roles then reversed and it was my mother who needed help so we are all together and it works well for us also. Shared responsibilities, especially when raising children, is a HUGE help. I am now 36, married, and we are all still together. After my daughter moves out, my mother, husband and I will remain together and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It is certainly advantageous to all of us financially and it’s nice to have someone around with more life experience and a different perspective from time to time. Parents and adult children living together is very common in so many cultures….not sure what’s up with Americans (and I am American). I ignore the occasional side eye that I receive when I tell people that we all live together and am sure that it’s the right thing for all of us.

        1. Artemesia*

          What a great tribute to all of you who have obviously learned to live together and honor each others needs and privacy. I had an English friend who wept when his MIL died; she had lived with them all their married lives and was in her 80s. All I could think was, ‘how great is it to be a MIL so delightful to be with that a SIL would be this sad to her pass on.’ In a world where in laws annoy each other endlessly, how wonderful that multiple generations can enjoy living together.

      2. Amadeo*

        I live with my parents at the moment too, also due to financial constraints. It works out for the most part, but I’ll be honest when I say that some days I am desperate for my own space. I have my room and have claimed a spot at the counter bar to sit with my computer of an evening, but no place to set up a desk for my printer and scanner, I have to carry them out to the counter, use them, then put them away again. In my room that is too small, LOL. I also want another dog and if I brought one home today, there would be so many fireworks.

        I’m less ashamed than I used to be, but I think folks do get embarrassed because of the social stigma (that, fortunately, seems to slowly be fading). I would totally be content with a manufactured/mobile home on a spot of land around the corner from their house though. They’re not quite retirement age yet, though Dad is almost there. I’d be right there if something came up, and if I needed them to see to the pets, my mother would be able to make a pit stop before going to her own house.

      3. TeacherNerd*

        The problem was I did not want to live with my parents. :) My parents are wonderful, were very supportive, etc., but I was used to supporting myself, etc.

        1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

          I’ve had to move home twice in the last 10 years. The first time was with my husband and newborn daughter and we lived with mom for a little over a year. It worked at the time because I stayed home with my daughter, was pregnant with my son, and the more help we had worked for us. The second time was 4 years ago when my family moved back to our home state after living over 1000 miles away. Six months in her basement and we were out! During the first stay with my mom I wasn’t embarrassed. I welcomed the help. We were able to save money. My mom was able to be with her brand new grandbabies. It was a positive experience for us all. The second time? Not so much. My kids were older so I was a seasoned parent, we wanted our own space, having another person question my parenting decisions all the time made me crazy. I hid the fact that I lived in my mom’s basement from all but a few close friends. I worked like crazy to get out of there ASAP and in fact, if it weren’t for the fact that we were looking for a place in a very specific area, we would likely have moved out even sooner.
          I think it all comes down to whether you want to be there or not in how embarrassing it is for you.

          Although…I think there are a few people who should be embarrassed. Like my brother in law who is 40 and doesn’t work because he doesn’t like to (literally the reason he gives to people!), has no money and lives with my in-laws and lets them do everything for him (cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc!) My husband has already warned the three of them (parents and brother) that he will not be caring for brother when parents pass away. This is a likely scenario due to some ongoing health issues they’re having. My BIL thinks my husband is a jerk for this conversation because they’re “Faaaaammmily!” But that’s another story…..

          1. The Strand*

            I’m with “Family Drama” on this. Your husband is not a jerk. Your brother in law is. The entitlement is strong with this one, yes. Because they’re “FAMILY”, the brother in law should be providing money, cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving, yard work, babysitting, and other things – to his parents. That is how my friends who are first generation live: maybe one or two of the kids don’t work outside the home, but they certainly work in it. Everyone participates. There is nothing wrong with being a homemaker, and if he doesn’t want to work outside the home, he should be learning how to be a domestic god from mom and dad, cooking for them, cleaning, etc.

            I have a sibling who mooched off my grandparents until her early thirties, when they had both passed away, then expected my parents to pay her expenses in my grandparents’ home, which they did for another decade. Describing her behavior to others, listeners would always assume she was my kid sister, rather than more than a decade older than me. She has few friends, never married, and is very unhappy.

            When this level of entitlement happens – into the thirties and forties – by a basically healthy (mentally and physically), able person – they’re not going to grow out of it. Despite finally getting a steady job in her late forties, my sister still expects my father, who is over 80 and on Social Security, to buy plane tickets for her. My spouse’s sister is also heavily subsidized by her mother. Reading the chapter in the “The Millionaire Next Door” about “outpatient financial care” helped a lot. Be prepared for a rocky road.

      4. Manders*

        I have a lot of friends in their 20s and 30s who live with their parents, and one who’s even buying a condo so he and his mom can live together more comfortably. To be honest, if I could have lived rent free or with below-market rent at my parents’ house after college, I’d be in a much better situation financially. The amount of money I’ve poured into the rental market black hole is staggering (and I can split a 1-bedroom with my partner, so I’m still better off than most people my age).

        1. Anon for today*

          All of my kids still live at home even though they are plenty old enough to live on their own. My oldest (31) said he wasn’t going to throw money away on rent and was waiting to meet the right person to live with. He now has and they are house hunting at the moment. It was never an issue and he was always a big help. My next (29) and his girlfriend are planning their move but are in no hurry. They are saving their money and will go when they figure out where it is they want to go. All my kids have learned their lessons from other family members who have had under-water mortgages, short sales, etc. We are one big happy family and I am not going to lie, I will miss them when they are all out of the house!

      5. turquoisecow*

        It all depends on the people involved.

        I lived with my parents while I was in school and then afterward while I worked part time. I kept living with them for a year after I worked full-time because it was a way to save money, but both myself and my sister agree that we get along MUCH better with our parents when we don’t live with them. It’s just really wonderful to be able to decide what you want to do and when you want to do it, and with the added history of having before had to ask for permission. Some parents are good at treating their children like adults and some are not. The parent-child relationship sometimes is hard to shift from parent-child to parent-Adult child, and it can be a struggle. I don’t judge anyone who wants to save money by living with their parents (although I wonder about their motives and abilities to survive and be an adult on their own) and I definitely empathize with the desire to get one’s own place. That was half the reason I got my first full-time job.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Same. I love my parents dearly, but we work better living apart. A lot of that has to do with religion–they raised me strictly within a particular faith to which I no longer belong, and it gets somewhat tense when I do things they wouldn’t approve of (drinking, tattoos, kissing). Having my own place and living two thousand miles away is what gives me the independence to live the life that is best for me.

    2. ECHM*

      @TeacherNerd: I just quit a desk job of 13 1/2 years out of desperation for a variety of reasons, and now have a low-paying physical job. I appreciated this comment: “Yes, I absolutely stuck out a terrible, low-paying job in which I was treated like a never-before-employed 14-year-old because I simply needed SOMETHING, but I did my job, showed up on time, kept my head down, did not take part in pervasive malicious gossip, and kept job hunting.” Had to laugh … I thought if I just kept my head down and did my work they would have nothing to say about me … but the other day I heard a couple of them talking about my style of mopping the floor. *sigh* Hoping I can have a similar experience to you, getting back into the field I trained for (and for which I was previously very well known and respected in our community).

      1. TeacherNerd*

        I may have been gossiped about, what do I know, and it certainly can be hurtful, so I shake my fist at them for that. A few times one co-worker tried to gossip and bad-mouth others, joke about it, etc., but when he saw it elicited absolutely no reaction, not even a basic acknowledgment, he stopped. I know that wouldn’t necessarily work everywhere, though. I’ve realized that, really, no matter what you do, someone will think you’re doing it wrong.

        You’ll get there! It may take longer than it should, because it always does, but you got this. :-)

  4. CaliCali*

    I think the #1 way for junior employees to get their bearings is to find a work colleague/informal mentor who has a few more years of work experience under their belt. They can help to give you perspective — whether something is a common issue across jobs and just a fact of life in the corporate world/manufacturing world/whatever your world is, or whether there’s something uniquely difficult about your workplace. Truth be told, in a few years, most people kind of learn what the regular pitfalls are, and can then adjust based on what they find tolerable.

    1. Sami*

      I was just coming to say the same thing. Find a mentor or even just a coworker who’s been there awhile to help gain perspective.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Though with the flip side that it needs to be a good mentor. Some offices everyone will tell you solemnly about the missing step you have to hop over, when an outsider with some years of experience would be like “Yeah that’s really weird, normal places fix the step.” Or you realize in the next job that your good buddy coworker was actually pretty toxic.

        (I really feel for young people, as I realize this sort of advice–mentors are important, you should find one–is really hard to just force onto their surroundings. Evaluating whom to listen to is easier when you have experience, which you get by plowing through more time.)

      2. BF50*

        And the mentor needs to not be your parents or a close family member. So often, parents or aunties or your mom’s bff are biased, either taking everything a young person says as overblown, or accepting their interpretation when really they should not. There are so many letters about bad advice young people are receiving from their parents.

        1. Jadelyn*

          My mom borderline hates my manager, even though she’s the best manager I’ve ever had, because all my mom hears from me is the venting when I’ve had a rough day or my manager is hovering over me and annoying me. She gets all “mama bear defending her baby”, reacts way out of proportion, and it can be hard to shove her back a step when she’s insisting that I should take all kinds of aggressive courses of action to address the stuff I’m venting about. No, I know what I’m doing, I’ve got this, thanks. And that’s a danger of listening to workplace advice from someone who’s very personally invested in you.

    2. hbc*

      Yes, it doesn’t have to be a Mentorship, just someone reasonable and experienced where you can pop your head in their office/cube/station and ask an opinion. Find someone who will take you seriously but also set you straight if you ask something ridiculous–“I can see why you think the office dress code is unfair, but a petition presented by interns will only damage your credibility. I suppose you could quit over it, but your options will be very, very limited in this field if jeans are a requirement for you.”

    3. turquoisecow*

      Yes. It also helps to listen to what other people are complaining about, if they’re complaining. Sometimes I’ve thought that I was alone in my complaints about a work situation until I happened to hear other coworkers complain about the same or similar things. It takes time, though. Sometimes, people are very careful to be optimists and toe the company line about how much they like things, especially with new people, but if you’re friendly with them they may start opening up about their complaints. Or, if you present your problem (as a problem and not a complaint), people may offer solutions and work arounds that you hadn’t heard of as a new person, thus making the problem less intolerable.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is so so true. I remember thinking I was the only person my boss micromanaged, and it really took a massive hit on my morale (micromanaging = death of all PCBH effectiveness and happiness). But I thought it was just me, in part because I was pretty new. Fast forward to my last week of work when I’m at a baseball game with my coworkers and our boss bails. The next 3+ hours were about everyone’s feelings of being micromanaged and feeling incompetent or lacking ownership over work. It was such a relief to know it wasn’t just me, although I wish I’d heard it, sooner.

        1. turquoisecow*

          It helps morale to have someone who shares your complaints, also, although you have to be careful about being too negative.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Absolutely. It helped that I was leaving ;)

            But sometimes shared complaints also help you figure out if you’re crazy or if there’s a systemic problem. I was a person who never quit, but the two times I’ve done it, it was once I’d reached the point of realizing that (1) there were systemic problems that (2) were never going to change and (3) I could no longer deal with them without seriously compromising how I reacted and my expectations for myself with respect to workplace attitude (i.e., not being pessimistic, focusing on problem-solving, not taking things personally, having appropriate work-life boundaries/separateness, being kind, etc.).

    4. Collarbone High*

      Yes yes yes. I was also coming here to say this.

      I’ve seen from both sides how beneficial that can be. Early-ish in my career, I applied for and received a promotion, but my manager blocked it on the grounds that it would hurt his department if I left. An industry vet in another department, who I respected, came to me and told me I should leave, and that he would be a reference, because that manager would continue to block me and his higher-ups were allowing it to happen. It was so helpful to realize that it wasn’t just me stamping my foot yelling “it’s not fair!” — that a more experienced person with no dog in the fight agreed, and had been around enough to say, the worst-case scenario here is actually what will happen.

      Now that I’m a mid-career professional, I informally mentor a group of younger people in my industry. Sometimes their expectations are way out of whack, and I try to rein them in; other times, they’re absolutely reasonable and I’m the one saying, time to update your resume.

    5. Annonymouse*

      Another way to help new to workforce grads is “would this be normal at a different company in the same field? Or a different company in general?”

      And ASK people from different companies (like friends/family/mentors etc) what would happen in their companies in that situation.

      Obviously high turnover is expected in places like call centres and retail so comparing those to say an entry level finance job isn’t going to get the best framing of what is and isn’t normal.

      1. Her Grace*

        I second this. I believe if something bothers you, you should be asking about it. “I noticed X. Is this normal?” This is not you complaining, per se, but establishing norms.

        If you don’t have experience, tap into the experience of others.
        People to ask:
        — Experienced coworker
        — Your manager
        — A mentor
        — A professor
        — Someone in your industry but not in your company.
        — AAM

        Now, what might be ‘normal’ for your company might not be normal for the industry. You need to discover that.

        Next: is it something you are willing to accept? If so, level up with big girl panties. You will get XP. If not, you may wish to consider looking for another job (if this is not normal for the industry) or look for a different career (if it is).

        Just remember, every job has something about it that sucks and is a normal part of the job. But it is up to you to research if it is an acceptable normal or not.

  5. LadyL*

    Can I also throw out there that part of being young IS making mistakes, complaining about the wrong things, and being a bit clueless? And that being a perfect employee is not a reasonable goal, no matter the age but ESPECIALLY when you’re just starting out? Because really, who among us didn’t screw things up a lot at our first few jobs, regardless of generation? Being a bit obnoxious and making mistakes is how you learn good judgment, those that make it sound like it’s just this generation have deluded themselves. In every other aspect of life we start off clueless, then grow into maturity, why would jobs be any different?

    1. CaliCali*

      Agreed! There are several things I look back upon and cringe about. The nice thing is that it’s to be a bit expected from everyone who is new in a job — my coworkers did a little head-shaking to themselves, I’m sure, but I did also learn and mature as time passed. And I’m still learning!

    2. GOG11*

      I agree that making mistakes is part of the learning process. And I think acknowledging your position can be helpful. It’s one thing to complain, but if you acknowledge that you may be mistaken/misunderstanding something, it goes a long way. It also plays into the way a person handles problems – do you drop a problem in your manager’s lap and expect them to deal with it, or do you lay out a solution or two and go to them for their guidance/input? Combining those two things takes it from an entitled-sounding “why don’t I get the high profile assignments?” to “I know I’m new to this field, and I’m not familiar with the ins-and-outs of How Things Are Done here. I’d love to take on work like High Profile Assignment some day. Can you give me some guidance on how to get there?” I think there’s a big difference between those two. It might not seem like much, but just having the self awareness to know that there may be factors at play that you’re not aware of can change your outlook and the way you come across. I know it was a turning point for me.

      1. Zathras*

        You beat me to it, I was going to post something very similar. Acknowledging that you’re inexperienced and framing things as a request for help/guidance takes the edge off of something that might otherwise sound like an obnoxious complaint about something minor or expected. Even if you are asking for something and the answer is no, no reasonable manager should hold the second type of question against you.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        It might not seem like much, but just having the self awareness to know that there may be factors at play that you’re not aware of can change your outlook and the way you come across.

        Thirding this. There’s a recurring theme, “I moved into management, and discovered that 90% of my old manager’s job had been invisible to me.” Acknowledging that there might be pieces to a process that you don’t yet know about is going to make you seem a lot smarter.

      3. Brogrammer*

        Even wanting high profile assignments can be a symptom of inexperience. It seems obvious that high profile assignments are a good thing and management oversight is a bad thing when you don’t have much experience, right? Well, not necessarily… I ended up running a high profile assignment with very little management oversight and it was a terrible experience. I was out of my depth and had no backup – my boss said I could always go to him for help, but his claims of “I’m not going to micromanage you” really meant “I don’t know how to manage you.” He had a general idea of what success on the project should look like but no specifics; when I asked for help he just told me that figuring all that out was the project – fair, but it meant that I was not the right person for the job at all. I breathed a sigh of relief when he hired someone with experience in that kind of project to run it and let me step back.

        1. Manders*

          Oh yes, definitely. This is a common problem for people who are fresh out of school: you’re used to working alone and turning your piece in to be graded, and your teacher may discourage you from asking for too much help. But most workplaces want A+ work, and to do that you have to seek out someone’s expertise or flat out ask for help.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I distinctly remember in the mid 90s a Boston Globe article about how College Kids Today got housekeepers hired by their parents who came in and cleaned so the little dears would not be distracted from studying. With several interviews of kids and parents who gravely explained that this was just how it was these days. I’m guessing most 40 year olds would have Feelings about whether that was a fair generalization of what their college years were like.

    4. Manders*

      Well said.

      Something I’ve noticed about many people in my age group is that we tend to be afraid of career-related mistakes. I don’t think that’s a universal generational thing, but it may be a consequence of hitting the job market during a recession at the same time that the rental market was in a bubble in many areas. I went into my first few jobs with the mentality that losing my income meant not being able to pay rent or afford health insurance. I stayed in some bad situations for way too long because of that fear, and I’m still working on eliminating some bad habits caused by that fear of losing it all.

      1. FlibertyG*

        The insurance thing was a big piece of this for me too. I still remember my mom warning me that if I lost my job I’d be uninsured when the bus hit me (and a bus was certainly going to hit me) and then I’d bankrupt the family. It was , uh, motivating, I guess.

        1. Manders*

          My mom worries about the same thing, although her fear is centered on the fact that she doesn’t understand what I do and she’s afraid it’s not a “real” job/the company might not need me anymore and the work will just disappear.

          My parents went straight into their careers with very few mistakes or unexpected changes of plan, so I think it bothers her a lot that her kids’ career paths aren’t so straightforward.

      2. LadyKelvin*

        It also makes a difference how you were raised. I am super risk-adverse when it comes to careers. I want (have) a job that will pay me well and give me health insurance. I grew up with 2 self-employed parents who gave me great work ethic but there was never guarantee of a pay check each week (or money for the heating bill, or groceries) so for me having a secure job is the number one goal and I am afraid of anything that might cause me to have to live like my parents did while they were raising me. My husband on the other hand is the same age as me and has no qualms about quitting his well-paying job to risk freelancing or starting a blog, etc. He grew up without ever worrying about money or where his next meal is going to come from and I don’t think he really understands what it takes to run a business. Its a bit of a sticking point between us.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          I feel this so hard. When I was in ninth grade, we had a special “Life and Career” class that was meant to teach us study skills and how to plan for our futures. We got asked what we wanted out of our future careers. A lot of answers were “I want to be famous”, “I want to make a ton of money”, or “I want to make a difference”. Then they got to me. My answer?
          “Dental insurance.”

    5. Dan*

      My dad once told me, and it’s very true, that you make good decisions by having good judgement. You get good judgement by having made bad decisions in the past.

  6. Dan*

    As AAM notes, when you’re inexperienced, you don’t have reference points to draw from.

    The way I’d answer this is focused on the appearance of job hopping. In my field, one typically needs 3-5 years of experience to move out of the “no experience” category. If you’re considering quitting your first job six months in to it? Hm. As a prospective employer, I’m going to want to know what was so bad you moved (or want to move) on after six months. More importantly, I want to know if you’re going to do the same to me… and I probably won’t even bother to find out.

    First, can you nail down very specific things that are not subjective? I’m talking about things like more travel required than what was advertised. Another example could be “advertised flexible schedule, but complains when someone is 5 minutes late.” But a general “my boss is mean” or “I think my boss looks at me funny”? Those are subjective.

    Second, don’t quit without something else lined up. Keep your job, and put feelers out. If you get interviews, you can start to probe about working conditions at the potential new place. If you don’t get interviews, that’s a clear indication that quitting your job outright is going to make finding a new job very difficult. And remember — it’s easier to get a job when you have a job, and leaving your job after six months with nothing lined up is a yuuge red flag.

    Third, the danger with quitting early for “fit” reasons without knowing how particularly bad something is is that you have no idea if the next place you interview at will be any better. If you do quit for a common reason, the interviewer is going to look at you and think (they may or may not say) that things are exactly the same here, and we won’t hire you because you won’t be happy.

    If you can stick around for 2-3 years, then you can peace out with some more acceptable excuses like, “seeking new challenges”.

    1. European*

      You know, there are companies at which with 3 years of experience you may apply for a position of a manager.

      I strongly believe that in every case individual performance should be considered, not just work experience.

      Myself, I switched into business after finishing my PhD (5 years of research). As I didn’t have business experience I was put into a junior position. I’m suffering because of that so much I can’t describe it. For the last 1.5 years I’ve worked about 1 hour a day, since there’s no more work for me. The remaining hours I’m bored. And I can’t use my laptop for personal purposed most of the time. And yes I have tried asking for more tasks, without success.

      When I was given a manager role on one project I got an excellent review for it.

      What I’m trying to say is, people’s skills are not easily measurable with years of experience in a specific role.

    2. Risha*

      I’m entirely sure that it varies by industry/location, and it’s not like I’ve worked at a ton of different places, but all but one of the companies I’ve worked for have had a median stay of maybe a little over 2 years. Someone who stayed 3 would be assumed to be an expert in all of our software and processes, and 5 sounds shockingly long for anyone but a lifer. I started my first job out of college in a group of 23, and when I left 11 years later, there were exactly two others who were still there, and the three of us had been the last ones left for several years.

      1. Dan*

        Wow. Certainly this stuff is field dependent. In my field, a series of jobs lasting exactly two years would more or less get you labeled as a job hopper.

        At my current employer, where I’ve been for 3.5 years, there are data sets/products/tools used division-wide that I’ve never been exposed to. Over the next two months, I’m actually going to training for them! Yet, my department works with proprietary data that nobody else in the company can ever see. So people who have worked elsewhere in the company for even 10 years and then transfer into my department will never have worked with our datasets. (Which is part of the reason I haven’t worked with the other data that I mentioned “everybody else” uses…)

    3. mreasy*

      It completely varies, especially in a small industry. I worked for a company whose president was known to be awful for a year and a half and quit without anything lined up because the (actual) emotional abuse had become too much. This was my first job in my field, almost 15 years ago, and if anything, the only comment people made about my tenure is that they were impressed I had lasted so long!

  7. Professor Ronny*

    In the past, I have found it helpful to see how more experienced people react to the same situation. If they don’t think it’s a big deal, then I figured it is not a big deal.

    Now that I have more experience, the thing I ask myself is how the issue would reflect on me if I had to explain it in a few minutes during a job interview. If I think the interviewer might not see it as a reason to leave the job, then I figure it’s not as big a deal as I might otherwise think.

  8. living the dream*

    Talking regularly to your manager can be very helpful in understanding the workplace norms and whether certain workplace issues can be changed or modified. The decision is ultimately up to the individual–what makes you miserable might be ok to me, and vice versa–but it does help to sort out whether the issues that are bothering you are ones that can be addressed by the employer. In my role as a career coach, primarily working with younger workers, I have seen a lot of younger workers leave a job, only to do a few stints with other employers and then realize that their former workplace was better than they recognized at the time.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Good judgment is really helped by having a large enough data set to put things in context. People new to a field don’t have a large data set to figure out what’s normal and what’s an outlier–why Professor Ronny’s advice to observe how more experienced people react is good, since you are in effect borrowing a glimpse of their data set.

    2. LQ*

      I think it’s also helpful for managers to acknowledge when something is out of the norm, whether that’s for that workplace or in general. I had a project recently and I felt like I was loosing my mind because my manager and the person who was…sort of on the other side of me both kept telling me that it was fine and it would all get done (meaning I would magically do it all) with incredibly unrealistic time frames. SO unrealistic. Once they both stopped saying everything’s fine and said, they is completely abnormal but we need to find a way to manage it I felt so much better. Yes. I got it done but it was an insane amount of overtime and brain burn out. But just knowing that this was uncommon and not the right way to do it made me go from, “yeah I’ll manage AND LOOK FOR A NEW JOB” to “ok, I’ll manage and then it’s fine if I’m sort of a slacker for a few weeks after while I get my brain back on track”. So…when your staff talk to you, talk back. I get toeing the company line, but sometimes honesty is important too.

  9. CatCat*

    My first career type job out of college was truly toxic. Like if there were a bingo card for bad management, I could have won in multiple directions! It took me years to get my mind straight around what was normal and what wasn’t after that, especially since a parent told me I needed to suck it up and I was fortunate to have a job. I would have been grateful for knowing back then that it was not a professional failing on my part that: (a) your boss sucks and isn’t going to change, and (b) your parents don’t know what they’re talking about. This site is a great resource for reality checks.

    1. Seal*

      Same here. In fact, some 30 years later I still have trouble determining what’s normal and what isn’t when it comes to management. To this day I wish I had never listened to my parents about anything work related.

      1. k*

        It took me way too long to realize that my parents were not a good source of work advice. They’re good, smart people. But the world is just so different for someone just starting out today than for someone nearing retirement who’s been at the same job for decades.

        1. Seal*

          Sadly, my mother is still trying to dole out bad education- and work-related advice after having been retired for almost 20 years, this time to my niece. When someone calls her on it, she admits she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. But that doesn’t stop her for trying to offer bad advice. Maddening.

          1. Annonymouse*

            It’s a parent thing.
            I just want to help my brood be happy/not starving on the streets so I HAVE to advise them even though my advice is outdated and possibly completely wrong. I can’t NOT say something and watch them struggle!

    2. GOG11*

      For the first few years of my current job (second full time job), I had a coworker who was terrible. He was disrespectful, rigid, racist, sexist, and just awful to try to work with. I made it 2 years before I went to a former manager (still at org, but no longer managing me and Terrible Employee) about his behavior. Apparently, everyone was waiting for him to retire. I knew intellectually that his behavior was unacceptable, but having so little to compare it to made it hard not to take it personally when he acted like a jerk. I so wish someone would have pulled me aside and clued me into it sooner.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        This was how I felt at an internship once. It was for a political representative, and the first time someone called me a “f***ing traitor to [my] country” on a phone call I ended up crying in the bathroom! I really wish someone had warned me that that happens surprisingly often, and that you were actually allowed to end a call with a constituent if they became verbally abusive (my office wasn’t great at training).

    3. FlibertyG*

      I will say that this is one argument against staying in a bad job for long: it warps your perspective on what’s normal and it gives you a bad attitude about work that can be hard to shake. If you feel like it’s “us versus them” with management, that bites you again and again in your career … but in a toxic work place, it is literally you versus them! Having said that, when you are very young I still think aiming for at least a year before you start looking is good advice. Just don’t stay somewhere terrible for five years! Especially when entry level pay can be so crappy and wages are usually percentages. I remember getting 2% raises on peanuts and being like … oh this is still peanuts.

    4. Fishcakes*

      Same here. I didn’t want to be a quitter, and I had always heard from people that so-called “real jobs” were soul sucking and awful so I stuck with it, thinking it was normal.

  10. Falling Diphthong*

    I really appreciate Alison’s continued emphasis on more versus less experience, rather than qualities inherent to people born in random years.

    I think the framing of ‘a right to action’ is off–you have a ‘right’ to make a convenient parking spot or free Friday bagels the hill on which you will die, and if you have the skills to tempt an employer to comply, or a willingness to sacrifice lots of other aspects of the job to meet that one, then it will work.

    The question is often whether the unwanted aspect of the job is one that will change if you go somewhere else. Changing jobs will get you away from a crazy manager; it probably won’t get you an entry level job that has a ton of responsibility. (Thinking of a comment from someone who worked in a glamorous industry, but the actual jobs even at the top were not 100% glamorous fun tasks most of the time. At the intern level, very little of the time. But commenter met people annoyed that their internship hadn’t turned out to be doing glamorous cool things, who didn’t have the experience to grasp that this was really what the job was like–there was no secret All Cool All The Time club.)

    1. Alton*

      This is a good point about developing realistic expectations about what you can and can’t fix by getting a new job. Unfortunately, that can sometimes be hard to see in the moment, too.

    2. FlibertyG*

      Yeah the “hill to die on” framing is useful. Are you really going to die for a dress code issue, or over an open office? (I say this as someone who LOATHES my open office … but not enough to quit over it. Especially as they’re pretty common in my field and I’d probably just end up at another one). Even a jerky coworker or an unsupportive boss with a love of unproductive meetings … those are things to grit your teeth and endure for a year or two, typically.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yep, I agree with everything you’ve said here.

      In terms of experience vs. less, I think we’ve seen it in letters here (occasionally very dramatic ones!) which have featured folks who were certainly not fresh out of school, but who had been out of work for a while, with expectations every bit as unrealistic as the most stereotypical and entitled 21yo imaginable. We’ve also occasionally touched on how experiences and norms can be very different between industries, such that someone with a lot of experience in one area could still come off completely out of touch and naïve in a very different environment.

  11. J.B.*

    OP: I think that this is a really awesome question to ask, and appreciate AAM’s thoughtful response. I watched my husband challenge some things…in not the best way. It really hurt him for several years after in the job market, and he probably maintains some prima donna status. (And, well, his wife thinks that’s kind of a fair assessment :)

    At the same time I challenged some stuff early in my career by going to big boss. I was not fired for it. 10 years later I would not go about it the same way, and am still dealing with some internal politics in relation to it. HOWEVER, my past hotheadedness has helped me learn strategies for dealing with a dysfunctional workplace while keeping my soul intact.

    1. GeekChick603*

      I, for one, would LOVE to hear about your coping strategies for dealing with a dysfunctional workplace while keeping you soul intact.
      I haven’t found that magic formula yet.

  12. Zinnia*

    Also, if you are in the position of managing or training interns / new grads, it is a great kindness to tell them explicitly about your office culture, especially the difference between what’s allowed and what’s seen favorably.

    For example, HR policy says I can allow you to work anything from 6-2 to 10-6, but certain managers in other departments where you might like to work in a few years will see it as a negative if you aren’t consistently here between 9 and 4.

    Or jeans are officially allowed every day, but the COO thinks it’s disrespectful if you don’t dress up on days you have meetings scheduled with him.

    1. Observer*

      Some of this is stuff that should be told to anyone coming into a new workplace, though. Even someone with experience might miss this kind of thing for a while, and burn capital unnecessarily.

      1. Zinnia*

        True, though experienced workers generally know that unwritten rules exist, so they will make a point to seek out a friendly coworker to fill them in. New grads often have no idea they should be asking about this stuff.

      2. Anxa*

        I was just about to say, maybe it’s because I’m in a state of arrested development (long-term underemployment), but I’m not a new grad and to be honest, I don’t feel any better about knowing these things in my 30s than my early 20s. And I’m fairly certain at 22 or 30+ I would have been tempted to come in to that 10-6 shift, worried about the stigma about later risers, and ultimately chosen it because I am soooo much more productive if I can get an extra hour of sleep, and falling asleep before 2am is a real struggle for me.

        It’s not like at 22 I wasn’t considering unwritten rules, different office cultures, etc.

  13. Alton*

    I think an important piece of the puzzle is working out the difference between things that are truly unacceptable (like harassment), things that are worth learning to tolerate, and things that are important to you.

    For example, consider dress code. If you’re really passionate about a field where people usually wear suits and ties and similar dress, then that may be worth it to you even if you’re not fond of dressing like that. But it’s also possible that you’re someone who really has a strong preference for more casual work environments, and that’s okay, too. It might mean switching your sight to a different field/industry, but it’s perfectly okay to prioritize this if that’s a big deal for you. My career plans have changed as I’ve learned more about what type of work environment I prefer.

    1. Manders*

      That’s a great way of looking at it. As I creep out of the entry-level category, I’m starting to think about whether a work environment’s good enough to be worth giving up something else I’d like to have. I’ve also found that when I start getting resentful of the fact that I can’t have something I want at work, like blue hair or free snacks or t-shirts, it’s not actually about the thing I think I want but a sign that it’s time to move on to a place that’s worth sacrificing crazy hair and comfy clothes for.

      1. Brogrammer*

        This seemed to be a recurring theme in the “Ask the Readers” thread about dramatic overreactions to workplace changes. Free snacks aren’t enough to make someone take a job that they don’t want, so if someone is getting bent out of shape over the snacks it’s really a symptom of a bigger problem.

        1. Meh*

          Well, it’s a tough call. But I think there’s probably wide-spread agreement on how NOT to go about sharing your concerns. In a recent post, a commenter alluded to someone who made a document titled Hills to Die on and threatened to quit if they didn’t get their way. That’s probably a bad idea early in your career…or any time before you’re ready to retire that day. ;)

  14. FlibertyG*

    In your first full-time salaried job, I think there are very few conditions that would be legitimate reasons to quit without a backup plan, unfortunately. I say this with a lot of empathy, but you should really try to stick it out for at least a year unless you’re actually being yelled at or physically threatened or severely bullied. Just hating it isn’t enough. Maybe you can focus on other aspects of your life to get through it (hobbies became EXTREMELY important to me during times when I really hated my job). After you get through a year you can start looking, so it will be a year and 3-6 months by the time you leave, which is respectable for a first job – but even then, next time you will ideally try to stay even longer in most fields :( Then again, I entered the field during the recession when full time jobs with benefits were like unicorns … maybe kids today have better options? I hope so!

    1. Anonymous for this*

      You’re assuming, of course, that employer allows you to have hobbies. At my first job, we were expected to work from 9-8 pm (and very, very frequently beyond that, with multiple all-nighters) and often on weekends. That left no time for hobbies.

      1. KellyK*

        I think jobs with hours that insane, unless the employer was up front about them in the interview or it’s a known aspect of your field, are one of the few exceptions to the “stay for a year no matter what” and “don’t quit without something else lined up” rule. Pushing that hard can be really damaging to your health. Not to mention, if you’re working 11-15 hour days, you don’t have time for a whole lot of job hunting.

        If a job is making you sick, and the nature of the job or the way in which it’s making you sick sabotages your ability to find another job, sometimes the best thing to do really is get out.

      2. Cookie*

        Same. And no vacation can be used in the first year (although you are accruing it). This sort of thing leads to burnout and makes it really tough to make it to the year mark when you’re so stressed out/exhausted that you can’t even think straight. And if you’re that sick and miserable, you’ll probably be underperforming and getting a poor reference (or getting fired) might hurt you more than leaving too quickly.

  15. Curiosity Killed The Employee*

    Related question: how can you figure out whether the problem is the specific place where you are or the field in general?

    I recently left a job that I knew was a toxic environment (I was way overworked and my cries for help constantly ignored because I wasn’t one of the boss’s favorites, among a long list of reasons). I’m in a new place with a much better environment, nicer coworkers and bosses, much better pay, more engaging work… And yet I’m still not entirely satisfied. So now I’m starting to think it’s more of the field I’m in, rather than just the specific environment.

    1. FlibertyG*

      I had to ask myself what I liked and didn’t like about a few jobs before I figured this one out. I liked working in a team (when the team was good) and having a variety of projects, and getting out of the office sometimes. I liked a faster-paced workload. Those things were compatible with my field, so I knew my dissatisfactions were mostly things I was just going to have to get over [uh, not liking be told what to do, not liking having to be at work eight hours a day …. ] with a few things that were specific to certain circumstances [not liking being held to vague instructions … well, who does like that? But a different boss would solve it].

  16. Sabine the Very Mean*

    My first career after undergrad was as a teacher. I knew senior year that I made a mistake. I did two years and got the hell out of there. When I did finally inform the staff at the three schools I worked in (I was a specialist), I can’t tell you how many teachers told me they wished they quit 30 years ago when they were two years in. That is sad and I swore I would never say such a thing if I could help it. Screw “supposed to”–make yourself happy.

    When you recognize that you can’t find your happy after a while, then maybe get some outside perspective. I refuse to follow generational rules like this.

    1. FlibertyG*

      I do think teaching is one of those careers that you may know quickly isn’t a good fit for you. Hopefully the long student teaching requirement helps people make this realization earlier, but I’ve seen it happen. Nursing seems to be another – it’s possible to realize you hate dealing with sick people or little kids :(

  17. Searcher*

    At Old Job, I was the only full-time manager in our state (everyone worked remotely). The job description also changed radically after three months with little warning and little extra training. When I was told I was required to expand into our neighboring state for no extra compensation (meaning I would have to drive there with some regularity), that was when I decided to push back. I told my manager that I was unhappy with how the job description had shifted with no warning and that I felt unprepared, and that I disliked that I would have to travel to another state for no other compensation. I wanted to stay with the company, but it was making me unhappy enough to consider leaving if no changes could be made.

    I was let go two days later.

    Am I sorry I spoke up? Yes and no. Yes, because it was a really difficult six months before I found something else. No, because I learned that the culture likely wasn’t going to be for me. I wish I had learned this before I invested my time and caring, though.

  18. Lauren*

    I had this sort of question when I first started teaching. It seemed like I was being asked to do things that were totally unreasonable. My coworkers seemed to think they were unreasonable requests too. Then I find out how common those unreasonable requests are in teaching. Everyone seems to agree teachers are asked too much, but no one seems able to do anything about it because it would cost too much money. It has sense made me wonder if there are professions that are just innately unreasonable. Social work is another profession that comes to mind.

    1. bridget*

      A lot of law is like that, in terms of how much time you can expect associates to bill and to what extent you expect them to drop everything for an emergency (and similarly, what the definition of an “emergency” is).

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But in theory, firms that ask their associates to be constantly available are also expected to compensate those associates for that availability. (Of course, there’s a bunch of non-BigLaw firms with identical requirements and less than half the pay, in the long-run.) Not saying it’s ok, but just saying that the underlying assumption is that you’re being paid to work under unreasonable conditions.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      My experience with journalism and media has been similar. You’re working for a for-profit business (usually), but there’s still an expectation to be self-sacrificing and altruistic, which makes journalists tolerate a lot of unreasonable requests.

  19. Coco*

    Honestly reading AAM has really caught me up to speed on workplace norms and expectations. Compared to my peers who’ve been working longer, I feel like I have a much more filled-in mental spectrum of acceptable to unacceptable. There’s a LOT of room to be unsure in between “I wanna wear jeans” and “That’s sexual harassment.”

    1. MindoverMoneyChick*

      This is so true – I found AMA after many years of work experience but most of it for the same company. It really helped me see a few quirks that were out of the norm in the work world, but were common in my company, that I might not have caught on too otherwise. It also made me very appreciative of the better aspects of where I worked.

      I wish I had this site in my 20s!

  20. Arduino*

    I will add that, if you work at a place where the constant turnover is blamed on entitled selfish lazy millennials … Its not a good workplace.

    While not ageism in the legal sense it really has no place in the office. Its also usually a sign of clueless managers that prefer easy blame to actually addressing moral issues.

  21. Sally Sue*

    As an older Millennial, I graduated from college in 2008. I had the fortune to work every single summer and winter breaks at the same company in my field so the transition from intern to full time employment was easy for me. In my nine years of working full time since college graduation, I’ve worked at two companies (one for 5.5 years and at my current for 3.5 years). One of the biggest mistakes that my friends who graduated with me and younger millennials is believing that he/she is too good for a job. You have to start somewhere and that somewhere is the bottom. Even I, who interned non stop throughout college and had to teach my managers how to use the software, started at the bottom. I would do any task asked of me (as long as it was legal, etc) even if it might have been out of my job description and I would volunteer for tasks that no one else wanted to do. Now, nine years in, my salary is four times the amount of my starting salary, I can pick/choose the tasks/work that I want to do, I have a flexible schedule, etc. Having a can do attitude and willingness to do even the not so fun tasks ingratiates yourself to the management at your job. The CEO of the last company I worked for, regularly offers me a job because he knows I’m a dedicated worker who can set my ego aside.

    That being said, you are still a human being with rights, etc. You do not have to do everything that is asked of you especially if it is illegal. My decision to leave my last job was not easy (I loved the company and the work) however I was put in an unbearable situation. I worked as a contractor onsite for the government and my last contract was miserable. The government boss hated me for an unknown reason: he falsely accused me of corporate espionage which forced legal to get involved and he had to issue me an apology and he was just mean to me on a regular basis. I documented everything he said/did to me to make sure I had proof. I would cry almost every day at work because of his treatment and I made the mistake of not talking to my company manager. Finally when I got another job offer and I turned in my notice, I gave all the documentation to my company manager who was horrified. She had no idea about his treatment of me and she apologized profusely. She later reported all of my documentation to the government boss’s boss who was also horrified and went through the incredibly lengthy process of getting him fired. I regret not speaking up sooner because as my former company manager indicated, his treatment of me could be deterred. So as a cautionary tale to all millennials: work hard and do things you don’t want to do. But if you’re being treated horribly, speak to someone because the majority of the time, someone in your company will want to resolve that issue. The majority of companies do not want their employees crying at work because of poor treatment and will work to resolve major issues.

  22. Amber T*

    So to piggy back on this question, I have a related follow up question: What do you do after your second job?

    I’ve posted about my first job before, but a bit of background: Hired by first job within two months after graduating college. First job was ridiculously toxic and horrible (shaky financially, rape jokes on conference calls, coworker committed suicide). I started looking for another job within three months, ended up quitting after six months because I couldn’t stand it anymore (it was right after my coworker killed himself). I was fortunate to be hired by my second and current job after three months and have been here now for about four years.

    I’m not interested in leaving right now, but part of that might be because I’m afraid I have no idea how to apply for another job, because I don’t know what to do about my resume and references. I don’t have references from my old job (old boss promised to be a reference for my current job and ended up disappearing without a word, thankfully it didn’t affect me this time), and there might be *one* management figure person (old supervisor before I was promoted) that I might trust telling if I was job searching. So…
    – what would I do for references? I have maybe one current one.
    – would you put first job (six months, then unemployed for three) on your resume?

    1. Me2*

      I agree, we’ll still be here when you return. Plus we need you to read more books on your vacation in order to keep making recommendations for us.

  23. Brett*

    One problem I think for millennials is that the rules changed pretty significant for some career fields in the last 10 years.
    I look at my situation in the public sector. Before 2008, the basic rules were: you get paid sick pay that you can pay out in full at the end of your career, you get a nice pension, your benefits will be better than average, you will not get big raises but you will stay above the cost of living and routinely advance in title and pay grade.

    That means for older employees, sick pay and pension plans are locked in. They have already received years of small raises and have built up to somewhere above market rate and topped out or near topped out pay grade.

    After 2008, many local governments removed sick pay, cut pensions, and froze raises and promotions (or kept promotions but in title only without pay increases). New employees in this new era are experiencing the industry in a way that no one else before them did. Even if they have mentors, those mentors have no experience with what is or is not a reason to leave in that environment. (And those mentors are likely locked into a pension that makes leaving virtually impossible without a dramatic increase in pay.) So, for the question, of “Should I stay or should I go?” in such a restructured industry, the millennials have to create their own answers outside the experience of existing workers in the field, making the question that much more difficult.

    1. BouncingBall*

      Oh God yes. As a teacher of 10 years, the field was absolutely shifting just as I was moving into it. My senior year of HS was the first year of NCLB. And then everything with K-12 education was in flux while I was in college. By the time I got my first teaching job, teaching was no longer like my own K-12 experience. My second year of teaching, the district (like many others across the nation), had a huge deficit that was “fixed” by shut-down days, closing schools, and laying off all first- and second-year teachers. I’m happy that I’m part of the small percentage that has made it past the 5 year mark, especially since the job was like nothing I had imagined when I picked Education as my major. But the only reason I made it this far is because after getting let go, I moved to international teaching.

  24. Lindsey*

    I’ve been at my job for roughly 1.5 years and have been asking for higher-level work for about six months. It’s always been phrased as “is there anything I can take on to expand my skillset”, which I think is fine. It’s pretty clear that I’m outperforming the rest of my team and can do so easily. My boss seems to be happy to say that she’ll give me additional work, but it never comes about (I bring it up pretty regularly – maybe once a month).

    Am I just out-of-touch here? For context, I’m 24, but in a job that “on paper” requires 3-5 years of work experience. My boss is also out of the office a lot (medical issues). Oh, and I work remotely, so it’s hard to pop in to another office to see if they need help, etc.

    Any advice here? I’m not unhappy in my job per se (it pays well, and I really like working remotely most days), but I am finding myself a little…bored.

    1. nonegiven*

      If you can do anything to improve skills on your own/online or reading up on work subjects during your dead time, do that. You have something to do and it improves your skills/knowledge.
      Maybe you can IM or email other workers about helping out with something. I’ve seen my son work remotely, he’s on IM, IRC, having meetings, and asking “does anyone need code reviewed before the end of the day?” He might as well be sitting in the same office with his team since they are signed in to the same VPN.

  25. Jessen*

    I think someone mentioned this upthread, but how do you tell if it will be different anywhere else? I like my job ok but I absolutely hate being stuck on a high-deductible insurance. But I’m not sure I can get better, the insurance market has changed so much I don’t know who to ask, and a lot of companies are cagey about benefits until you’re hired.

    1. Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain*

      I think this is where personal networking and some online sleuthing comes in handy — AAM, glassdoor or linkedin might be able to give general insight, but industry specific websites and friends in the industry would be a better source. For example, I’m a graphic designer, so I check out American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) national and regional forums; but I’m also in-house and higher ed, so I check out University & College Designers Association (UCDA) and forums. Because the experiences of a freelance graphic designer, marketing agency designer, and an in-house designer are going to be very different. For example, advice for freelancers designers tend to be geared toward things like contracts, billing/collecting, self marketing, etc. — none of those apply to me.

      If your industry has conventions/conferences/continuing education/meetup opportunities, it pays to go and talk to others in a similar situation as much as possible.

      1. Jessen*

        I’m not sure I really have an “industry” right now as much as “whatever I can get while going back to school.” I’m a call center person at the moment. Of course, part of what I’m willing to go back to school for is what I think I can reliably maintain good insurance in…

  26. Rachael*

    I’m nearing my fourties and learned that you have to start at the bottom, work hard, and then you *might* be rewarded. BUT you have to advocate for yourself and nobody is going to do you any favors – you have to get out there and let people know how much of a rockstar you are.

    My coworker recently graduated from college. He is a hardworker and willing to go the extra mile. However, he is also struggling with whether he needs to find another job already. It has only been a year and a half but he feels that he is doing tasks that are junior and thinks he should be doing the tasks that are reserved for more senior analysts.

    I had to have a talk with him about how sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want in order to get the experience needed to move up. I “counseled” him on asking for more money because his job duties changed dramatically. He thought that his manager should just give him a raise because he was a high performer. He was (and still is) but he needs to bring the conversation to her! I also told him that in my first job there was a time that when it was busy I had to stand next to the fax and printer to run them to the other analysts. You work your way up! Lol.

    I certainly don’t think that millenials are lazy, I just think that they have been raised differently. It is a shock to realize that the person in charge is not looking to make sure that everything is “fair” and to reward at every turn (even when it is warranted).

    *on another note: I also counseled him on volunteering to do tasks that are, excuse my french, crap (like letting the pushy exec admin make you do some of her tasks that she didn’t want to do – like hole punching). If you take on a crap task then not only will you find yourself doing the crap task going forward but that person will continue to take advantage of you. It is a thin line to balance. You need to do junior tasks to move up, but not the tasks that other analysts just don’t want to do.

  27. Resident Martian*

    I realize this is a repost from 2013, but you know what? It was so refreshing to hear the term “Generation Y” instead of “Millennial” that I’m going to see if I can bring it back. I’m almost 30, I didn’t grow up with a smart phone or reliable internet, I’m incredibly un-entitled, and I’m just tired of being called “one of these damn Millennials with their $800 phones.”

  28. Ester*

    Former job hopper here. If it feels wrong, find something else. Hopping is okay if it helps you eventually leap. Don’t get sick over it.

  29. Chickaletta*

    Another factor is that young people often find themselves in less-than ideal jobs to begin with. One, they don’t know what to look for, or to have patience landing a good job (often better jobs, better companies have longer, more complex hiring processes), and two, they’re going for entry-level positions. Those two things lead to, ding-ding-ding, less than great jobs. It’s easy for those of us who have already followed the path to a nice job at a nice company and so it’s easy to say for everyone to stop being a whiner. But I bet if most of us were put in those jobs, we’d be pretty sick of them too. We may have the wisdom to stick it out or quit with grace, but we so easily forget that the bottom of the barrel is covered in slime we wouldn’t want to wade in everyday either.

Comments are closed.