update: I’m in trouble for re-sorting a coworker’s trash — and I’m enraged

Remember the letter-writer who was angry that he’d gotten in trouble for re-sorting a coworker’s trash because the coworker wasn’t recycling? Here’s the update.

Unfortunately not much has changed, other than the fact that I now have a lot more anxiety at the office since I no longer trust my coworkers and don’t know which one of them went behind my back to HR. I’m extra cautious about everything I say and do now because I don’t know if the person who overhears or sees me will go to HR and try to stir up yet another drama storm over some innocuous thing. Every day at the office is basically just like walking on egg shells for me now. Like walking through a mine field where any little thing I say or do might unintentionally offend someone and trigger another unpleasant HR meeting.

I’ve remained fully compliant with HR’s request to not touch or look in the bins anymore throughout this time. I’ve made a point of just avoiding the kitchen altogether since I no longer feel welcome. I also try my best to avoid any further contact with HR. The HR person’s frequent attempts at striking up friendly small talk with me has been really making me feel uncomfortable so I just do my best to avoid them, and I’ll avoid going in parts of the office if I know that they’re there just so I can spare myself the displeasure of interacting with them. If there’s one thing I learned from all of this, it’s that HR really, REALLY are not your friends!

The company is still severely underpaying me, exploiting me as extremely cheap labor paying me a blue-collar wage for software engineering and IT work, going out of their way to sabotage my work and hiring outside consultants who constantly break systems that I have to scramble to fix, then have the nerve to complain to me about how my calling their outsourced IT guy in another country (out of necessity, since he has monopolized control of everything on our office network) costs them too much when he sends them bills, billing them by the hour as he keeps me on the phone talking my ear off trying to promote his IT firm’s useless products to me even though I don’t even have the authority to purchase them.

They are making minimal efforts to retain existing employees as more and more people jump ship as the new management of the company continue driving the whole company into the ground. They offered us a bunch of useless stock options instead of a market rate salary. I’m never going to exercise them.

I’m still unfortunately stuck here because I can’t find work anywhere else where I can actually afford to live. Contrary to what some people may believe, as someone who has spent their whole life living here in the bay area I can attest that finding steady tech jobs here has become an increasingly difficult challenge, especially for those of us working class residents trying to climb out of poverty. The cost of living has become so high that I no longer save money each month. I am actually losing savings every month now just trying to pay my rent and bills. Unfortunately, none of the scarcely few tech companies in more affordable communities outside the bay area that I’ve applied at have responded to my applications.

I still haven’t heard back from my city’s code compliance department regarding my employer’s noncompliance with the city’s recycling ordinance. After some conversations with other residents it seems that municipal code is rarely, if ever enforced in our city, so we’re pretty much S.O.L. I guess they’re just going to continue getting a free pass to dump as much unnecessary waste as they please with total impunity.

{ 485 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on*

    It’s been my experience that finding a job remotely from another state is difficult. You have to live in the area first and then get the job – no easy feat when you are already strapped financially.

    It definitely sounds like it’s time to move on. I’m glad you are looking and I’m sorry you are going through this. Please come back and give us an update!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      It is, but remote work is on an upswing now because of the pandemic. IT work especially; the OP’s company already has someone doing that. This might be an angle for the OP to emphasize in applications, that they are planning to move to the specific area but can start remotely much sooner.

      And yes, I agree—this workplace sounds terrible.

      1. refereemn*

        Surprisingly, I’ve had a difficult time in getting employers to be open to fully or even partly remote work. I’m in IT, in a rather specialized field, so finding qualified people can be a challenge. But, I’m often met with requirements to be on-site, so I would need to relocate. And, employers aren’t paying for relocation costs right now…

        1. Dagny*

          If you absolutely needed to, could you relocate on your own? This might mean selling your furniture (or putting it in storage), subletting a furnished place, and taking whatever fits in a car. Relocation can be expensive, or, especially if you’re starting out, it can be cheap.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I know this comment wasn’t for me but the situation is similar. I could relocate (and would, and have been telling employers hell yes, I will). But my challenge is getting anyone to look at me with a sizable employment gap, much of which is not actually my fault (hey I wouldn’t be unemployed if someone would employ me, plus who saw a pandemic coming?).

            refereemn, this might be something we both have to do.

      2. AnonAnon*

        I agree. I am on the east coast in Big Pharma IT and business is booming out here. I am not looking for work but get contacted constantly. And all of the jobs so far are remote.
        I would seriously consider a relocation or looking into the east coast market especially in Pharma.

    2. Yup, Oklahoma, I know*

      I also know Bay Area people may not be interested, but Tulsa, Oklahoma has been known to pay people to work here remotely (not sure if this is ongoing), and we do have more tech companies that actually are here. Oklahoma can be a hard sell, and as a bright blue liberal in a deep red state, it has it’s challenges, but it also has 4 bedroom, 2 bath houses in nice neighborhoods for $175,000 and lovely weather except in the summer. Not sure you’d want to raise children here, but it’s a good place to start saving up money.

      1. DW*

        I’ve heard Iowa is getting popular for Bay Area/NW transplants, and the Iowans are NOT happy about this. (Something something “rising CoL” something…)

        1. laughingrachel*

          I’m an Iowan and it’s really a damned either way scenario! We want people to live here! Pay taxes here! But also it’s a super purple state so there will always be people mad when the people who move here are from California! What red/purple state doesn’t love to hate California??

          Iowa has historically faced a huge “brain drain” problem. We mostly have (had? it’s been 10+years since I’ve been in that system) really good public schools and three great state universities where all of our young people get educated and then move away and pay taxes to some other state during their working life.

          So, of course, Des Moines has been desperately trying to attract young professionals since the Riverwalk project started in the 90s. Plus in the past couple years, they’ve really pitched themselves as one of the tech start up hubs in the Midwest (there’s a couple other Midwest mini-tech hubs) and now people are biting because Iowa is SO AFFORDABLE compared to any coastal area. I recommend it if anyone is interested! Steve King just got beaten! You get to shake a bunch of future presidents hands! I got to see the Howard Dean scream in person! The computer as we know it was created at Iowa State! Please bring your varied life stories (and tax dollars) to the heartland!

          1. Lizzo*

            Plus, RAGBRAI! :-D

            On that subject, one of the overnight towns within the past few years had posters all over the place touting the low cost of living and the high speed internet access due to the telecomm companies in town. I think it was Jefferson…?

            Also, goodbye Steve King! Don’t let the door hit your racist behind on the way out!

            1. Johanna ky*

              I haven’t heard RAGBRAI in a long time… and googling it now, I assumed it was motorcycles not bikes.

              1. Lizzo*

                Pedaling under your own power is far superior to the gas-powered option. Plus, more pedaling = more calories burned = MORE PIE IN MY BELLY!

                It’s the best. Canceled for this year for the first time in its history, but can’t wait for 2021!!!

            2. Looc64*

              I read Steve King as some sort of nickname for Stephen King and was momentarily very confused.

              1. JumpyJess*

                Ha! I’m no longer the only one who’s brain has made that erroneous leap!
                (I’ll take Stephen King over Steve King any day. At least in the horror stories, even most of the deeply flawed characters usually have some empathy and human compassion… And more importantly, at some point, the horror ENDS.)

                1. JumpyJess*

                  Although I must admit that Steve King losing is ALMOST as good of a horror story ending. Lol.

          2. Anon for this*

            Grinnell grad here, looking forward to the open thread to talk about Iowa.

            This is not the place to talk about politics but suffice to say Iowa’s “first in the nation” status for its caucus has GOT to go. The last 2 caucuses have been fiascos, and the state’s sacrosanct status has given disproportionate prominence to farming and rural white voters. No candidate will last long in Iowa without pledging fealty to ethanol subsidies.

            I’ll save the rest (I’ve got plenty!) for the weekend thread.

      2. Ann Perkins*

        Tulsa area here too – the remote program filled up but it really is a nice place to live in terms of affordability. The Midwest in general is shockingly cheap when compared to the rest of the country. Kansas City, DFW, Fayetteville are nice options too.

          1. PeanutButter*

            I’m literally moving in exactly one week to KC, MO from Oregon for a biotech job. I’m excited and nervous. I’ve never lived more than 45 minutes from oceans OR mountains before!

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Ann Perkins!

          Sorry, nothing to add. Just wanted to say that in Chris Traeger’s voice, lol.

      3. mh_ccl*

        After 2 years here, I’m of the opinion that the Bay Area is not worth it. We moved here for my husband’s tech job. But the COL is just insanely high, traffic is terrible and homeless people are a real problem. It’s not all bad – the weather is gorgeous, schools are great, and we have tons of amenities. But we’re moving to the Southeast in 2 weeks. We’d never be able to own a home here, and our rent goes up 10% every year (currently almost $4300/mo for a 2-bedroom).

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          If I hadn’t managed to buy a house at the bottom of the housing crash, I would be priced out of the area myself.

          I will have to leave the area to retire.

        2. Ace in the hole*

          I grew up in the bay area. I’m approaching 30 and literally the only people I grew up with who still live there is my friend who became an aerospace engineer and my 90-year-old grandmother. The only reason Grandma can afford to live there is she bought her house back in 1950 when the place was still a small farm town.

          It’s really sad. My family’s lived in the bay for five generations but it’s become so overcrowded and overpriced none of us can afford to live there anymore.

        3. Three Flowers*

          “Homeless people are a real problem”

          This might be a miswording rather than intent, but it doesn’t read as very sympathetic to people experiencing homelessness, given that you’ve just stated that finding any place to live in the Bay Area is incredibly difficult…

          Homeless people are not “a problem”. Rents literally four times what you’d pay in a less ridiculous city, and the corporate takeovers that drive them, are the problem.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            Thank you, I was put off by that as well. Homelessness is the problem, not the people suffering from it.

          2. Tough Love from a Bay Area Techie*

            Spend some time navigating feces in downtown SF and you may change you mind.

            1. pancakes*

              I live on the east coast but have visited SF pretty much just for restaurants and bars, and hope to do so again someday when travel is an option. Maybe even just for a particular egg tart on Stockton St. in Chinatown. I don’t think it is tough love to blame people who don’t have homes or bathroom access for not having homes or bathroom access in one of the richest countries in the world. The reasons they don’t have homes or access to working bathrooms are just about entirely in our control rather than theirs.

              1. Happily Self Employed*

                I live in the southern end of the Bay Area, in the downtown, and I agree 100% about not blaming unhoused people for not being housed. For the past few years, about three people lose their housing for every person who finds permanent housing in the area, because rents are so ridiculously high for anyone who has a service job. Likewise, I don’t blame anyone for not getting treatment for mental illness or substance abuse, when access to treatment requires a level of waiting and red tape that is difficult to navigate if you’re having those kinds of impairments.

                And regarding the “poop problem”? I have seen fairly bougie looking people “forgetting” to clean up after their dogs if there’s already some poop–basically framing the unhoused folks for at least some of the poop on the sidewalks.

            2. Penny Parker*

              Then work with your city or neighborhood to put up some portapotties or other ways for people to use the bathroom. Quit blaming those on the bottom who would prefer to have places to live if not for the tech industry which has forced people out of areas they have lived in their entire lives. The system of capitalism is to blame here as it is designed to always have poor people.

              1. AnonAnon*

                We already pay BY FAR the highest state taxes in the country. We are overrun with people traveling here from Ohio or wherever, already homeless, already struggling with addiction, etc, bc the weather is better, the views are better, the services in CA are far better, etc. This isn’t a political blog, and this isn’t the place for this debate. But, know that it’s not as simple as “well, the citizens of San Fran should take up a collection for portapotties.”

                1. Mily*

                  Just FYI, “homeless people move here for the weather” is a myth. California builds fewer shelters relative to other places.

            3. SDJ*

              I live a block from Civic Center and deal with feces all the time. Homelessness is the problem. Tech companies made the housing problem worse.

            4. Student*

              Once, a boss made an offhand remark to me about homeless people smelling bad. He was insulting a food by comparing it to the smell of homeless people, if you need the context.

              He didn’t know it, but I had been homeless for a while.

              I found the comment shocking. Not for the insult to homeless people. Not for the implication that homeless people may smell bad. It was a realization I had about my homeless experience. I had never once thought about how I smelled while homeless. Upon reflection, I was certainly not up to hygiene norms.

              Proper hygiene and pleasing smells were so very, very low on my priority list when I was homeless. I was worried about so many other fundamental things. I didn’t care about my aesthetic qualities. I actually found it hilarious, in a dark-humor way, that smell was my well-to-do boss’s main impression and critique of the homeless. It showed how deeply out of touch he was with what it means to be homeless. It’s like a TV show where a stereotype nerd is talking to a stereotype jock – they each have their values systems and experiences, but practically no overlap, so they can’t hold a conversation with each other.

              That’s what popped to mind when I read your complaint. I won’t try to explain to you what those homeless folk are going through. I will point out a few things, for your consideration:

              (1) Calling it “feces” is pretty deliberately dehumanizing toward other humans. We call animal excrement “feces” in conventional, conversational English. We call human excrement a lot of different slang terms, ranging from silly to clinical to offensive, but that’s not one of them. It’s one level of jerkiness to insult vulnerable people with impolite terms for excrement. Denying the humanity of their excrement is a monstrous thing to do. So, please don’t be a monster.

              (2) It’s rather risky for a homeless person to void in very public spots. Nobody hesitates to call the cops on a homeless person. When I was going through it, we tended to try to keep a lower profile than that. It’s anecdotal, but the people I’ve seen do this tended to be very drunk male college students, or moderately drunk, older middle-class white guys. Or white women on the side of a rural road. Who all know it’s very unlikely anyone will call the cops on them. So, are you sure you’re stepping in low-brow homeless poo, or could it be middle-class drunk crap? It’s an area you yourself frequent; who makes up more of the population in the area: middle-class people like yourself, or homeless? How close is the nearest bar?

              1. Whoops*

                This is a really compassionate response on a thread that has been pretty…not that. My family was homeless for a short period (couch surfing, not street involved), and it was terrifying and shameful. I am proud of us for getting out of it, but it definitely affected our priority ranking for day to day

              2. Anonny*

                I’ve heard a lot of the problem of homeless people going in the streets is that a lot of San Francisco ‘public’ toilets are either paying customers only or pay-to-use. So they simply can’t afford to go anywhere else.

            5. Ethyl*

              Wow I kind of thought the people who comment here aren’t cruel and heartless. Guess I was wrong.

            6. No Name #1*

              That’s rich coming from a “Bay Area Techie”. Do you realize how much the tech industry has contributed to homelessness and the housing crisis? The nerve of people to gentrify a city that they are not from and then complain because they see homeless people as an eyesore.

          3. A*

            Thank you. My sister was homeless for quite some time while living in San Fran…. she was working full time, but enough to even rent a room. Luckily my family and I were able to assist once we were aware. She said it really isn’t that uncommon, and several of her professional colleagues were also living out of the cars in company parking lots (in my sisters case, she didn’t have a car so she ‘rented’ one from a family that lived near her office. They didn’t need the car at night, so she’d literally sleep in the car in their driveway for $200/month. Now that’s two pretty solid examples of what people will do to try and keep up with the COL right there).

      4. Scott*

        As another bright blue liberal who was recently able to live and work in the Tulsa area (Bartlesville), I can second that it is a wonderful and underrated corner of the world.

      5. Carrie*

        I know y’all have Zayo in Tulsa I think and they also have an office in Boulder although that’s a lot of $$$. Zayo might be better for OP.
        My other suggestion is to try southern California if they want to remain in the state. I know it’s also very expensive but it’s not like the bay area and it may be less of a culture shock. However I left in 2014 so I can’t speak to the job market. In 2014 it wasn’t bad at all looking for network jobs.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    Well, it doesn’t sound like the LW has let ANY of this go at an emotional levelv (plus reporting for non compliance!). LW, it would really be healthier for you to move past the kitchen issue/fear of HR, and would likely make work more enjoyable.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*


        To me this is not a good sign: “The HR person’s frequent attempts at striking up friendly small talk with me has been really making me feel uncomfortable”

        1. Colin*

          Also the fact that they have apparently reported their own company to the city for the trash issue, and make accusations that other people are constantly sabotaging their work. This sounds like absolute paranoia.

        2. CastIrony*

          On one side, I agree. On the other, it took me YEARS to get to speaking-level to a superior over an incident where they yelled in my face, partially because I felt that management favored them over me and told me to “get over it”.

          But since this pandemic, I even had a good, small, conversation with them, and that was yesterday. I think OP will come around someday, even if it takes four to five years.

          1. J!*

            I mean, there’s a difference between being literally yelled at in your face and being told individually to stop doing something there’d been several staff meetings to discuss not doing.

            1. Penny Parker*

              I believe the staff meetings were to tell people to quit putting the recycling in the trash.

              1. Some people*

                Well that’s part of the puzzle. When the original letter was published, there was speculation in the comments that the staff meetings may have been attempting to stop the person who was piling recycling on top of the bin instead of inside. Ha!

      2. MissM*

        Indeed – I kept thinking back to Alison’s original summation of “overly invested” and kept cringing while reading.

    1. HR Gal*

      As someone who is the ONLY HR person at my job, I can fully tell you that I would not give a single crap or two about the trash cans. We have much bigger fish to fry than to worry about what trash is going in what bin. On top of all the chaos in this world, I would hope you could help YOUR HR person out and just quit for the sake of you and everyone else.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        When you say, ‘just quit’, do you mean:
        ‘just quit re-sorting trash’? Because LW’s done that

        or do you mean ‘just quit your job’, because… that’s a really unkind statement, given the restriction LW’s given.

        LW, best of luck to you. You know who made the complaints, it’s the person who unsorted your re-sorting. Avoid that person, but you can be a little more relaxed about your other co-workers. Most of them do not care at all.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I believe she means quit obsessing over it and letting it poison the OP’s interactions with literally everyone in the office.

          1. Classroom Diva*

            I read it like Sunny-dee too.
            IMO, when I read this update, I felt as if the OP was definitely obsessing and letting this relatively small thing (really it is in the scheme of things) become a true problem. Honestly, were I their employer, I might be wondering how well they “fit in”. To be this…concerned, seems way out of proportion. I can only imagine how difficult it would feel to work with someone this concerned with the trash. Believe me, I do try to recycle, but this really does seem to be over-the-top.

            OP, I appreciate your concern for the environment. It is time, however, to let this go. You do you and make your corner of the world better. Let others do them.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            That’s how I took it. The OP has quit one very specific thing (i.e. sorting the trash), but they still continue to be difficult to work with. The HR person is trying to have a normal professional relationship, and the OP is actively rejecting any semblance of professional courtesy and continues to nurse some sort of perception of persecution.

        2. Massmatt*

          I get the LW is financially strapped but her letter is rife with all sorts of negative takes, anger, paranoia, and hostility towards her employer and coworkers, AND she says she is dramatically underpaid.

          Even with the pandemic, people are hiring, and programming skills are in demand! I fail to see how this job, with this employer, where she says she feels like she has to walk on eggshells, avoids coworkers, reports to municipal authorities, and is getting basically minimum wage pay for programming work, is the only job around. And if memory serves, the original letter was from before the pandemic.

          IMO the LW is coming across as an angry and disgruntled applicant that cannot let things go. No one wants to hire a ticking time bomb.

          Is all this REALLY over a coworker not recycling? Yikes, this escalated out of control.

          1. OhNoYouDidn't*

            Yes. And he/she sound like someone who is wallowing in a victim mentality and is unable or unwilling to accept any sort of blame. There seems to be little to no self awareness.

      2. JJ Bittenbinder*

        But you’re really, REALLY not anyone’s friend, so what do you know?!

        Sorry—I don’t even work in HR anymore and the whole HR iS nOt YoUr FrIeNd!! thing really grinds my gears. Your manager isn’t your friend, either. Neither is the Director of Finance, the head of facilities, the parking garage attendant or the executive assistant to the CIO. But none of those people get the same level of vitriol about it.

        Of course HR isn’t your friend. Of course the other people mentioned above aren’t, either. They may end up being friendly or even becoming your friends, but the default position is that they, like you, are there to do a job and not to be pals. And that job will frequently involve making difficult, sometimes unpopular, decisions that are in the best interests of the business. In fact, HR is more likely than any of the above, in my experience, to have those decisions overlap with ones which benefit the employees (because that’s a pretty big ingredient in keeping the business running), but even if they didn’t, that’s the way work is.

        1. BelleMorte*

          The HR isn’t your friend thing isn’t meant personally. It means that HR primarily needs to act in the interest of the company, not the interest of the employee. Many people think HR is there for THEM not for the company, rather than vice versa. The other people you listed are not expected to be on the employee’s side.

          I find HR will always protect the company’s perspective first. Sometimes this means they will get the company to see that they are making an illegal or immoral decision, sometimes this means they will back them up. If HR is advocating for employees at the expense of the company, they probably aren’t doing their jobs, that’s the role of a union.

          1. HRLuck*

            I disagree with BelleMorte. I’ve worked in HR for 15 years and have certainly advocated for employees. There have been many examples when HR supported an employee’s view, leading to changes within the company that had financial costs.

            What I have always found ironic is that because of their respective (limited) perspectives, the business often thinks HR advocates for the employees too much, while employees think HR more likely to just push company agenda.

    2. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      Yeah, this was an interesting update to read. There appear to be some legitimate beefs with the company (underpaid, being expected to clean up after consultants’ poor work) that I wonder if it’s really that the person hasn’t let this one issue go (true) or that the overall quality of the job, pay, and work environment are so low that there’s no letup in anger whatsoever.

        1. AKchic*

          that’s how I read it too; and it’s kind of a valid feeling. Sometimes, you just get so fed up with the legitimate stuff that the random stuff that other people would let go become that “hill to die on” even if it’s not really that. It’s a symbol of everything legitimate that’s wrong.

        2. LGC*

          Yeah. He’s fixated (…perseverating, even) on the trash bin issue, but I suspect that’s partly because it’s something he COULD control (BTDT).

          Honestly, though, it seems like he’d be better off just pulling packages for Amazon. (At least in terms of his mental health.) The letter is nominally about literal trash, but it’s really about him feeling (rightly so) that his company treats him like trash.

          1. valentine*

            I suspect that’s partly because it’s something he COULD control (BTDT).
            And, yet, he cannot control it.

            OP, you are still having greatly disproportionate reactions. You refer to the trash situation as “some innocuous thing,” yet it still has a massive impact on you. Since you’re not allowed to leave trash out, you’ve banned yourself from the kitchen. HR had to rein you in once and you’ve banned yourself from their (friendly!) company. At every turn, you’re taking your ball and going home. Your company won’t pay you properly, yet you want to cost them fees and see them punished for something that won’t make a decent dent as long as there’s a massive Evil Corp is giving everyone cancer. If your locale is one where a single yogurt cup contaminates the batch, you would have to sort everyone’s trash to avoid that, and it would still be for nothing if your locale is one that recycles for show. You can detach from that. For your own sake, you need to focus elsewhere.

            What if, for three months, you do the opposite of what you’ve been doing, then reassess? (If you feel worse, stop, but if you feel the same or better, keep going for another three to six months.) Use the kitchen. HR is being friendly because there are no hard feelings. What if you chat with them briefly and stop avoiding them? Just as you didn’t have to touch the trash, you don’t have to stay on the phone and you can be honest about why: “I’ve been asked to keep the phone bill down.” When your manager complains about it, what if you say you wouldn’t have to call if you could [whatever remote colleague does] and/or you feel hamstrung because you can’t? Are you sure your manager knows about the guy taking so much control?

            You’re still focusing on things you can’t control instead of those you can: your behavior (including in respect to your finances), which is the only way out of this for you.

            1. pancakes*

              In the meantime, there is at least one thing they could control: Not letting the IT guy talk their ear off! “I’m sorry to interrupt but again, I don’t have any purchasing authority and am not the right person to speak with on this.”

              1. Alex*

                Absolutely. In addition to that, I would explain this to whoever in charge of choosing this service. If it were me I’d be outraged to know that when I try to access the service we’re paying for we instead get *charged for an unwelcome sales call*.

              2. Anon for this*

                Especially if they are billing the company for their attempted sales pitch. It’s bad enough you try to sell me crap when I need service, don’t ask me to pay for you to do it!

            2. MyStars*

              This. You can’t change what they do, but you can change how you react. If you are feeling really stuck, maybe work with a therapist to revise the tapes you are playing in your head. Your letter reads like you are a trauma survivor reacting to this situation like you are being re-traumatized, and if that is the case, you should be able to find some nonprofits or sliding scale therapists that can work within your financial limitations.

              1. Rebelx*

                After re-reading the original letter & OP’s comments, then this update, I just really want to recommend that the OP try talking to a therapist. I know in the US mental health care can be prohibitively expensive, so of that’s an issue, I think Googling could turn up some more affordable options, especially in a large metro area. I also know it can be daunting, I avoided therapy for a long time because I thought I “should” be able to manage my problems on my own, or that therapy was for people with bigger issues than mine, but the truth is it can be helpful for anyone who is having some difficult times in life. And OP, you sound STRESSED. I’m sure it’s extremely stressful to be very underpaid and feel untrusted, undermined and unvalued at work. I think you might find it helpful to talk to someone professional about it. Keep job hunting, too, but therapy can also help you find ways to cope while you are still at this one.

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes, I am sort of guessing that the overall level of frustration with their job in this letter may be the main driver behind the last letter. It sounds like OP is so unhappy there that I wonder if trying to fix the recycling issue was a way they had felt like they had a small amount of control. In that context I can see how they became so emotionally invested in it and so upset at being told to stop.

      1. Starbuck*

        I’m horrified at the idea of a software engineer in the BAY AREA making just over minimum wage? I can imagine the financial stress that would be. I really hope OP can find something better. It’s infuriating that they’re getting away with that.

        1. Social Commentator*

          Keep in mind that their local minimum wage is likely higher than the state (which is $12), so it’s closer to being minimum wage anywhere. But yes, minimum wage for a software engineer is terrible, no qualifying conditions needed.

          1. Social Commentator*

            Just checked my facts; as of 2020 it’s $13. Which doesn’t change anything; I just didn’t want to spread misinformation.

            1. atgo*

              I’m in SF. Yeah minimum wage is higher here, but it’s still not enough to live anywhere near the metro centers. The economy here is a disaster.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                I’m in the Seattle area and the McDonalds near my parents’ house pays $17/hour to start.

              2. JJ Bittenbinder*

                I’m in a significantly lower CoL area and our local Target/Aldi/Kohl’s pay more than that!

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          I’m not american, but could there be a minimum wage for engineers? Is that a thing in the US?

          Where I live, there’s a national minimum wage, and then each profession can set a minimum wage for their registered workers. I’m an engineer myself and, since you have to register with your local board to do engineering jobs, minimum wage for any engineer is about 8 times higher the the national minimum.

          1. Nephron*

            No you have federal minimum wage, states can set a minimum wage, as can cities but those have to be higher than the federal. U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25, California is $12, based on bay area I think they are in San Francisco which would be $15 an hour.

            1. Free Now (and forever)*

              Connecticut‘S minimum wage is currently $11. It increases on September 1st to $12, to $13 on August 21, 2021, $14 on 7/1/2022 and $15 on 6/1/23. Alabama’s, unsurprisingly is $7.25.

          2. Ping*

            Unfortunately, many jobs use the term “engineer” when it isn’t a registered engineer.
            Registered engineers command a fairly high rate. Pseudo engineers have significantly lower rates. Many jobs call coding, software development, IT, etc. engineering. Many of these jobs don’t require an engineering degree. That really muddies up the pay issue.
            In short, OP could hold a title of engineer at his company without the requisite degree. That would account for the lower pay scale.

            1. Product Person*

              The highest paying sw engineers I know don’t have an engineering degree (like I do, in EE), nor are “registered engineers”, which I don’t even know what means in the context of software. In Austin they command $160K or more as individual contributors coding SaaS products, and are hired for their skills, not degrees or certifications.

              1. Ping*

                They dropped software engineer from the professional engineer certification. It only existed a few years.
                Software architects and software designers can command very high pay. But it is very specific by skill set.
                SaaS commands high pay. Someone doing IT work or merely coding (Vs design or architecture) will see much lower pay.

            2. Librarian1*

              This was my thought – that the job isn’t actually software engineering (which, tbh, I don’t even know what that means), but the company is still using the word engineer in the job title for some reason.

            1. Ping*

              That’s not true. Every state has a Professional Engineer registration. Legally, you are not allowed to call yourself an engineer without the registration.
              There is one loophole. Your employer can use the job title “engineer” and then you can call yourself that.

              1. Ping*

                Clarification: you are not allowed to use the title “engineer” in any company name without a PE.
                There are also several documents you can’t sign without the PE.

                It’s become very murky with people overusing the term. Some PE groups have sued and its gone all over the place. At this point, it can’t be controlled anymore.

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                It’s entirely common for IT departments to have network engineers, software engineers, desktop engineers, etc. It’s so common that I doubt anyone, other than licensing bodies trying to maintain control of the title, would think twice about someone in IT identifying themselves as an engineer nor consider them a “pseudo-engineer”. (And the people who drive trains are also referred to as “engineers”, though I doubt NSPE deals with them at all.) It’s like Kleenex and Xerox – the phrase has been diluted by common usage to the point that trying to contain it to a strict definition is not going to happen.

                I would like the engineers that sign off on structural or municipal plans that affect people’s lives and well-being to be fully licensed and registered; I could not care less if the people who keep my office computer network up and running are “real” engineers (and, in fact, several of the best NEs we’ve had don’t even have a bachelor’s degree).

                1. Ping*

                  FYI, even train engineers are regulated by the DOT and have to be certified.

                  The real issue is the very, very wide variety of skill sets for someone calling themselves an engineer. This variety of skill sets and market forces are going to result in a very wide range of salaries. I think it’s quite common for people to confuse things. In their mind a coder is the same as an engineer with a degree. But the skill sets are very different and result in wide pay difference. That’s my point.

              3. Ethyl*

                Right but the comment was speaking specifically to a minimum wage that attaches to specific professions. While we do have registrations and certifications for people like engineers, architects, geologists, hairdressers, and more, none of those licensing bodies sets any type of minimum wage to go with those titles.

          3. fhqwhgads*

            CA has a significantly higher than the regular minimum wage minimum for “exempt computer professionals”, which most software engineers would fall under. So if this person is making that little, they’re either hourly and eligible for overtime or being illegally underpaid.

          4. Meredith*

            There IS such a thing as server minimum wage, for tipped food service employees only. There are a lot of qualifications, but last I checked, it was $2.13/hour – most of their income is expected to come from tips.

            But California doesn’t have a separate server minimum wage classification anyway – servers all get $12/hour plus tips to start.

        3. Ping*

          Based on OPs comments, I suspect that they aren’t really an engineer. It sounds like they are in IT, which is a different discipline that pays a lower rate.
          Minimum wage in the Bay Area pays $15.25/hour for San Jose. It’s higher in other surrounding cities.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Even a Windows IT “technician” in a specialized area (like obsolete databases) should be earning more than minimum wage in the Bay Area. If anything, the rarer the skill, the higher the pay, since they are harder to replace. Of course, if a technology goes suddenly “obsolete” because of predatory marketing by its replacement (think Paradox DB vs MS Access), unless the person has good general skill they will be pushed out of the market.

            But good general IT skills underlying whatever specialty they have should be marketable, even during a pandemic.

            However, it also sounds like the company has been gaslighting them for a long time, and has convinced them that they can get any better elsewhere. Which would have me at BEC stage too.

            Even IT help desk people get better than minimum wage here, and they’re at the bottom of the stack (think telephone support jobs.)

            1. Ping*

              According to GlassDoor, IT people start at $41k in San Jose. That’s very low for the COL.

              1. Lorac*

                Often times helpdesk falls under IT, which will skew the salary lower. IT as in people managing information systems will command a higher salary and should start at least around 50-60k.

          2. Ellie*

            Software Engineer can cover a lot of different qualifications. Where I work, you need a minimum 3 year degree for some levels, minimum 4 year degree or 3 years + post-graduate qualification with ‘engineer’ in the title somewhere, or a minimum of 20 years experience in the field. It really depends. Software engineers can certainly be underpaid though, I assumed the OP was an underpaid software engineer with a degree in computer science, or similar.

      2. LTL*

        I’m not so sure if any of OP’s complaints are valid. I’m having trouble trusting their judgment at this point. TBH I’m also tempted to believe that OP has a victim mentality.

    3. RussianInTexas*

      Whatever I was going to comment would probably get me moderated, so better you than me! You are much more polite.

    4. Felix*

      Given the toxic environment that she’s describing that’s going on, no wonder she can’t let go of her negative impression of that particular experience!

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        This could well be true, but all things considered, including OP’s attitude in the 1st letter’s comments, I take OP’s description of the workplace with a very large grain of salt. It doesn’t sound like the most reliable of accounts.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Yes, I feel that OP is accurately reporting their perception of the situation, but it’s seems likely to be that others’ perceptions would vary drastically—more so than your average “2 people seeing things differently.”

          I also read a whole lot of learned helplessness/anger and passive aggressive and self-defeating behavior— like, drinking poison and expecting the other person to die (and then getting furious when they don’t)—and I expect that if OP is applying to and interviewing for other positions, that comes through loud and clear.

          OP, since you’ve been with the company for a while, do you have benefits you can avail yourself of, such as Employee Assistance Program or health insurance for therapy? The amount of anger you’re carrying sounds exhausting and I imagine it would be a tremendous weight off your shoulders to learn to manage it.

    5. Alli525*

      Yes. OP doesn’t seem to reflected on whatever was causing/is causing this obsession with the trash. I’m experiencing anxiety like I’ve never felt before, thanks to the coronavirus and people’s noncompliance with public health & safety rules, but I’m working on handling it in a healthy way. OP isn’t and I’m worried for them.

    6. Annie Nonymous*

      OP, my heart goes out to you. You sound so unhappy. I know these are terrible, stressful times right now. You mentioned you’re a parent, so I’m sure that on top of work and environmental worries you’re worried about your family too.

      I just want to say that it’s great that you care so much about the planet, but you have to take care of yourself too. Do you ever talk to anyone? Therapy is awesome (although expensive), but even getting coffee with a friend and venting all of this, or calling a relative once a week to blow off some steam can help you explore these super intense, angry feelings.

      I’m so sympathetic to how you feel. Honestly…the stuff about the recycling and hating HR is a little over the top to me, but it sounds like you’re not in a great place emotionally or financially so I can see getting tunnel vision about things you feel like you can do something about.

      Try to find someone to talk to. I hope you can start to feel a little happier. And hopefully you can find a job that pays a bit more and feels more comfortable.

    7. JSPA*

      Yep, this is all so intensely…personal…in ways that are so unlikely to help OP’s career arc, day-to-day happiness, ability to connect productively with individual coworkers, likelihood of getting a good reference. And it’s all at almost exactly the same level of suppressed rage and frustration, which is usually a sign. And, not a sign that everything and everyone else in one’s life is equally enraging.

      When there are very legit upsetting things about a circumstance (e.g. nobody likes to be slowly bleeding cash) it’s naturally harder to recognize that you’ve reached Angry Dog stage. (Even suggesting it is probably going to land as Very Offensive.)

      But OP, this ends up with the truism that the only person you control (and in fact, the only person you have a right to control) is yourself. The only attitude you can control, and have a right to expect to control, is your own.

      If life has you at a point where suspicion / fear of the suspicion of others…loathing / fear of the loathing of others…distain / fear of the distain of others…anger at both the possibility of people talking to you and not talking to you…the possibility of both overt cruelty and apparent kindness…feeling trapped, and participating in trapping yourself by the process of avoiding others…there’s no way for life to get better, because you’re systematically blocking off any incremental positive change.

      Part of taking yourself seriously and taking care of yourself is noticing when you’ve become reactive enough that (whether or not you really also are surrounded by actual enemies) you’ve become, possibly your own worst enemy, and at minimum, your own greatest road block.

      You’re clearly bright, and clearly have a sense of purpose. Point those things at talking yourself out of that trap, or find someone who’s trained to help you do that. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is made for this sort of thing; it’s not the only game in town, but it’s a decent jumping off point.

    8. Tough Love from a Bay Area Techie*

      Exactly. I think that OP is doing a lot to signal that he/she is going to be a “problem employee,” and that is why the job offers aren’t pouring in. (And yes, I live in the Bay Area, and work in the tech industry. If you’re a decent software engineer, you’ll find a position, even during the pandemic.)

      Let’s recap:

      1. In the original post, Alison said that OP was overly invested in recycling everyone else’s trash. Even if people aren’t cooperating fully with recycling, there are plenty of good reasons for management to ask you to stop pilfering through the trash, especially at a tech company. You don’t want someone retaining sensitive documents (yes, these ideally should be shredded, but that doesn’t always happen) that could be used against the company in litigation.

      2. OP is coming off as a misanthrope by refusing to exchange pleasantries with HR staff. HR may be on the “side of the company,” but that doesn’t mean they get the silent treatment.

      3. If OP thinks he/she can earn more than a “blue collar salary,” find another job.

      4. In pre-IPO companies, the basic economic tradeoff is that you take a lower base salary in exchange for stock options. The stock options may, or may not, become worthless. If they’re clearly worthless, the startup is likely to fail. If they’re not worthless, OP should exercise the options and sell the stock to an investor or whomever (again, depending on what stage the company is at, there may be a secondary market for pre-IPO stock).
      If you don’t like that tradeoff, find a job at a more mature company.

      Also, startups beyond the seed stage still pay more than a “blue collar salary,” assuming that’s code for something grossly below market. And at the seed stage, early employees should be getting a HUGE equity stake in the company. I don’t think that’s what OP is, though.

      5. I’m not problem with whistleblowers generally, but really…reporting your company over a minor recycling infraction is hardly the same as complaining about waste, fraud, abuse, unsafe workplaces, discrimination, etc. So here, yes, you’re being petty. It’s as if you’re reporting the company for a zoning violation because it has a fence a couple of inches too close to the sidewalk. If you project this holier-than-thou attitude during interviews, it’s unsurprising you’re not getting callbacks.

      6. If an IT outsourcing company is wasting your time with frivolous sales pitches, cut off the representative and make it clear you’re not interested and that he’s to move on. If you put half as much zeal into this as you do into the trash issue, you’ll be fine.

      7. While the Bay Area is the biggest tech market in the country, there are others: NYC, Boston, LA, Denver, Austin, DC, Salt Lake City, North Carolina, Atlanta, etc. (No, Tulsa and Kansas City aren’t among them, despite what the well-meaning posters may say elsewhere in this thread, although ultimately even in those places people need IT services.)

      1. Missa*

        I was wondering what the the blue-collar salary comment meant myself. In the last letter, OP said he/she was making “slightly over minimum wage” which is a lot different than a “blue-collar salary” (some of which are from highly skilled jobs and pay extremely well).

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Agreed. Some of the wealthiest people I know are blue collar workers who own their own companies now.

    9. Olive*

      So glad you said this. LW is so incredibly invested in her self-righteous outrage that she can’t see past it. Everyone is suddenly an enemy. That’s a very destructive disposition to be in.

    10. Beth*

      Um, yeah. I’m at a loss to understand why the LW is still at the same company a year later.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    I feel like there is a whole lot more going on in this whole situation than just trash.

    LW, I don’t like to throw around “consider therapy”, but I’ve also had issues with anxiety in the past and I have to wonder if your commitment/obsession with the garbage is a symptom of something along those lines. Maybe you feel like this is something you should be able to control while you’re feeling trapped in an awful job in a high cost-of-living area? I don’t know, but you sound miserable about absolutely everything in your life, which can’t be good.

    (As a side note, and I know this will fall on deaf ears but here goes: It’s a fallacy and a trickle-down guilt trip that individual recycling will save the planet. What the planet needs is wholesale reduction of plastic-bottle *production and use*, etc. So while I–also a committed recycler–understand and applaud your efforts, it’s really trying to stop the problem at the wrong end. We need to be working to reduce packaging and industrial trash.)

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Agreed. On both fronts. The trash situation is not a good hill to die on, at all.

      My first thought was, “The LW has learned nothing from Alison’s answer to their letter.” But now, the whole environment of their company seems very toxic for the LW’s mental health. I’m very sorry that they’ve had a hard time job searching, and cost of living is a definite concern, but they need to get out of there!

        1. Reba*

          Yep, I try to recycle, but I also give myself and others a break, especially on plastics, because recycling is kind of a scam!

        2. beanie gee*

          I had a coworker who also took recyclables out of the trash and shamed people for putting things in the trash. Eventually when he was trying to educate someone on recycling, the person identified the city actually banned whatever it was from being recycled (something like waxy boxes or specific lids).

          I’m a smart person who cares about the environment, but figuring out what you can and cannot recycle in any given building is hard. And then you find out that most of it ends up in the landfill anyway.

          Do what you can to be a responsible person. Trust that others are doing the best that they can and don’t shame them when they make mistakes or have different priorities than you do.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Nice job of connecting the dots here, TRJ.

        OP no matter how much your company recycles it will still be a toxic company. Recycling has nothing to do with the many issues you list off here. Worse yet, your ability to trust this company is shattered beyond repair.

    2. Mama Bear*

      I agree with seeking therapy for anxiety. OP may find that it’s just helpful to have a non-biased person to vent to and it is rarely a bad thing to have support during a difficult situation. I think the office is toxic to OP and I wish OP all the best in getting out of there.

      1. MayLou*

        Therapy is amazing. I’ve had counselling for years now and it has changed my life. There have been times when I’ve been in mental health crisis and times when I just need an objective third party to bounce stuff off, and a dedicated time to think stuff through. If you can possibly afford therapy, get therapy. Just, everyone. It’s not just for people with specific problems. It’s a personal trainer for your mind.

      2. A Silver Spork*

        Thirded (or one hundreded, or however many there are now). Most of my family (including me) tends toward issues like OP is describing. For my sister it was not using certain poisonous plastics, for my brother it was not wasting water, for our mother it’s saving electricity. (I won’t even try to list all the things I’ve gone anxiety-angry about over my life.) For all of us, it’s an outgrowth of feeling anxious, trapped, and helpless.

        I went to therapy (for different stuff) and dealt with my life problems, and my tendencies calmed way the heck down – I’m still more anal about recycling than average, but I’m not going to dig through someone’s trash and passive-aggressively leave it in the kitchen. (Which is absolutely a thing I might have done 5-7 years ago… and also a thing my mother did to me several times.)

        Additionally, I wonder if maybe OP could benefit from joining a local environmentalist grassroots organization? I joined one in our city and found that I can channel the perpetual anxiety machine toward pushing the local government to get their act together. Maybe the OP isn’t in the right headspace for that, yet, but it’s a thing to keep in mind.

    3. Cassidy*

      “We need to be working to reduce packaging and industrial trash.”

      Yep, yep, yep. Good call.

    4. Double A*

      Yes. Letter writer, you paint yourself as 100% the victim here, and have a completely ungenerous interpretation of literally everyone else’s motivations. From both your letters, you give them impression that you don’t think it’s possible for you to be unreasonable, and you don’t think it’s possible for anyone else to be reasonable. There is a lot of catastrophizing and black & white thinking you demonstrate in these letters.

      I don’t doubt your company has some issues which you can leave behind in another job, but you will take *your* issues wherever you go, so therapy to help you build some perspective would be very helpful.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Yes – It feels like there is a lot of Martyrdom happening here, and by my experience with people who think like that, it is unlikely that she isn’t coming across as cold to her coworkers.

      2. MissGirl*

        Yes, I agree with the catastrophizing and black and white thinking. Even the comment about there being so few tech companies in low cost areas. There are tons of tech companies in low cost areas and there are a ton more tech jobs in non-tech companies in low cost areas. I worried OP is swimming in his misery. Having someone to talk through this process helps. I’m working on it myself.

      3. Jaybeetee*

        Don’t forget External Locus of Control. LW is perceiving themselves as victimized and utterly helpless – to their employer, to the job market, etc etc. LW is not perceiving that they can do anything themselves to improve their situation, and that is almost certainly a cognitive distortion.

        1. Nita*

          Yes, cognitive distortion is a very good way of describing it. If a certain relative of mine was employed, I’d have sworn they wrote that letter and the responses in the original thread. All of this sounds very, very familiar, right down to fishing the trash out of the recycling. I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but if OP has a similar situation to my relative’s, leaving the job won’t really help as they will take this mindset with them wherever they go. What OP needs to do is, they need to work on their own responses to situations and people. Even in legitimately upsetting situations, there’s more than one way you can respond. If you go assuming that the person that upset you did so on purpose… it’s often not true, and responding as if it’s true doesn’t help you fix the problem.

        1. The answer is (probably) 42*

          Oh boy, that’s a doozy of a comment. There have been occasional LWs like this here- they wrote to the advice blog because they wanted validation that they’re right, not to hear an outside perspective. And when they get an answer they don’t like they double down and act like any disagreement is attacking them.

          I’m honestly surprised that this OP even wrote a followup, considering that they’ve written off the entire commentariat here as “inconsiderate jerks” and “lacking empathy”, I’d have assumed that OP would stay away from this site.

        2. Jaybeetee*

          I hope OP gets some help for their own sake, as it’s such a miserable way to go through life. I’ve known some people who just felt constantly victimized by the world around them, and it’s an exhausting way to live for them and the people who care about them. Life is too beautiful and precious to lock yourself up in such a cage.

        3. MissGirl*

          Oh wow. I’m afraid leaving the job won’t solve anything because every where they go, there they’ll be. I hope they find some help.

        4. ampersand*

          Thanks for linking to that comment–that helps add some context.

          The problem here is so clearly not recycling.

          LW, I hope that you’re able to get some help. Finding the right therapist can drastically improve your mental health, anxiety is treatable, and it sounds like you need to feel like you have some agency in your life (you do, whether you think so or not!).

        5. Three Flowers*

          Yeah, as soon as I saw the part in the update about reporting *their own employer* for violating recycling ordinances because OP wasn’t allowed to keep digging through other people’s trash (!), I figured there was something like this going on here. OP reads sort of like one of those [insert cause here–religion, veganism, Crossfit, etc] evangelists who will not. let it. go., and isn’t very savvy about picking their battles.

        6. Courageous cat*

          Whew, unlike another commenter who used this phrasing, this does NOT make my heart go out to them. I know men who are like this and they are not……. kind…. people. I’m phrasing that as nicely as I can.

          OP, not calling you an asshole specifically but this is a saying: “if you meet one person and they’re an asshole, they’re an asshole. If you meet everyone and they’re an asshole, you’re the asshole.”

        7. Jean*

          Wow. The self-pity is truly appalling. I hope this person gets professional help and is able to move forward in a happier headspace.

        8. Beth*

          Welp, yeeek!

          I think the LW is quite solidly planted as their own worst enemy. If their toxic animosity is as pervasive as it sounds, I’m not surprised that other companies aren’t jumping at the chance to hire them — even if they’ve made more than a token effort to find another job.

          This sounds very much along the lines of “complaining is much easier than changing”. That attitude is truly the gift that just keeps on taking.

        9. Alice's Rabbit*

          I love the hypocrisy of complaining that someone went behind their back to complain to HR, so they’re going to tattle on the company’s recycling failures. Someone just doesn’t get how myopic their worldview is.

        10. NotAnotherManager!*

          Wow, I totally missed that the first time around. It’s unfortunate, but I think that the extreme reactions to relatively minor things are what’s really holding OP back, particularly if they’re telegraphing it in interviews or even cover letters.

          I also find it really odd that OP is acting like anyone who doesn’t vigilantly and perfectly recycle doesn’t care about the planet or its future. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of recycling programs and the financial/environmental cost of reconstituting plastics, in particular. My fairly progressive, urban city no longer accepts glass in recycling for a variety of reasons (we save ours and drop it off at a designated glass recycling bin, but I understand that some people may not have the storage space or transportation to do this, especially since the bin is often full and requires several visits to dispose of our glass). I think a lot of the things we carefully sort into the recycling bin end up in a landfill, regardless, and while it’s not a reason I use not to recycle by locality rules, I can see where people would read the news and think that it doesn’t much matter where they toss their stuff anymore. OP may be martyring themselves up for something that doesn’t even achieve their objectives.

    5. MK*

      Your last point: Ha! Do not get me started on how companies switched from glass bottles (that they then had to collect and recycle themselves) to plastic ones (that we have to deal with ourselves), thereby massively increasing the use of plastic and outsourcing the collection of their garbage to consumers, with the added bonus of a PR campaign to make us feel guilt for not doing it properly.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        The weight of glass creates a big additional transportation cost. It’s more complicated than just who has to recycle it.

        1. MK*

          My point was that they made a change that benefited them while harming the environment and inconveniencing the customers. It’s really not complicated.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            I think Dust Bunny’s point is that heavier loads = more trucks/larger trucks/more fuel, which may make the environmental impact calculation less straightforward.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              (To be clear, I’m in favor of the concept of drink companies being required to issue and accept and reuse their own bottles, but I suspect that died out in part because of consumer behavior—they could return the thing to the store or chuck it in the trash/single stream recycling and many people are lazy. And that being the case, lightweight bottles that require less fuel to transport start to seem sensible.)

      2. Adele*

        Hmmm. Is that local to California? I live in a state in which carbonated beverages, which includes beer, have a deposit and companies that sell that product must take the glass or plastic bottles or cans back and refund the deposit. Everything else, whether glass, plastic, or metal, is up to the consumer to dispose of, whether via recycling or in the trash. It has been this way since the late 1970s.

        My understanding of the switch from glass to plastic is that it saved the company on shipping and delivery costs, as the lighter weight plastic meant the use of less gasoline and the ability to ship and deliver more product at a time. I mourned the disappearance of my glass-bottle Diet Coke when they switched to plastic in the 1990s.

    6. Marillenbaum*

      Exactly. The Iranian yogurt is not the issue here. I think continued trying to get a new position, ideally one that will let them start remotely, would be the best thing right now, and hopefully therapy once it’s affordable to pursue.

      1. Bonky*

        Oh god, the Iranian yogurt. Thank you for making me smile.

        On topic: I feel for OP. I really do. But I feel worse for the people she works with; it’s one thing to be exposed to all this negativity in your own head, but it’s hell on wheels when you have to work with someone whose issues are spilling out into the work environment like OP’s are, and on the strength of these letters I am very, very doubtful that OP will ever seek the therapy that she would clearly benefit from.

    7. I don’t post often*

      Agree with you on the need for a more holistic approach. We typically purchase one case of water bottles a year to have on hand during power outages/ emergencies. We do not drink soft drinks. BUT. Our preferred brand of coffee, yogurt, juice, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries all come in a plastic container. I’m a rural area so I can’t just bring my own containers and go on down to the Whole Foods. I live in the type of place where the cashier looks at me funny for bringing my own recycled bags. This is hard. If there were a yogurt company or juice company or berry company that wasn’t using plastic, I would totally purchase. And oh. My county doesn’t recycle glass anymore. :(.

      1. Quill*

        Unfortunately, sometimes personal containers and bulk stores increase the chances of contamination…

        We need an overhaul that standardizes and mandates recycling and prioritizes which plastics genuinely are not replaceable (think sterile packaging for medical equipment) versus which could be replaced with something less damaging.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah. And even when you do live in crunchy granola-ville (as I do now, though not for much of my life), personal reusable containers for things like berries or yogurt or peanut butter are not infrequently barred for health and sanitation reasons even at Ye Olde Whole Paycheck. We used to buy in bulk a lot of things and use reusable bags but understandably all the bulk food options have been de-optionized because of the nineteen ravens and contamination concerns.

        I suppose that’s part of what makes adult life hard: sometimes there are no good options.

    8. TheLorax*

      I’m also a committed individual recycler… but right now my city is burying a lot of the recycling because China won’t buy it anymore and they don’t have the staffing and resources to do it themselves. So I hate to break it to the OP but that trash and recycling might end up in the same place anyways.

    9. DyneinWalking*

      Regarding your side note: My boyfriend has attended a few trade fairs where his company had a booth, and according to him, the amount of waste is shocking. As in, most of the stuff there is purchased brand new and then thrown away right after.
      I think it’s a mix of logistics and tax laws that makes throwing everything away way cheaper than redistributing it, but, good grief, what an utter waste of resources.
      I’m sure that this is a fairly common procedure for a lot of events, not just trade fairs (bar the very specialized equipment) – the waste produced by individuals is a blip against that.

    10. emmelemm*

      Yeah, without diagnosing any mental illness or such per se, it does sound like wanting to control the trash/recycling is a symptom of feeling like everything in the OP’s life is out of control. I mean, I’ve been there.

    11. Beth*

      Agreed that there’s more going on here than just trash. This level of reaction–fearing small talk, avoiding parts of the office where people who happen to work in HR may go by–is out of line with being told to stop digging through coworkers’ garbage. On the scale of what HR deals with, that’s pretty minor! Especially since you’ve stopped.

      I think Dust Bunny’s suggestion to consider therapy is a good one. I know it’s not accessible for everyone, but I agree that the way you describe your experience of the world around you sounds a lot like my experience of clinical anxiety, back when mine was undiagnosed and unmanaged. If it is something you can access, it might help; it did for me.

    12. MJ*

      “Consider Therapy” is good advice for many adults. It’s very useful even if you’re not mentally unwell or something that might normally make you consider therapy. It needs to be destigmatized and utilized more.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yes! I wish having a regular therapist like having a primary care doctor was a standard thing. When you really urgently need therapy, it’s usually because of something that will make it actively more difficult to find a therapist.

    13. Glitsy Gus*

      I also don’t like throwing around therapy as a thing, but yeah, OP, I say this genuinely with the utmost caring, if you can, I really think it would help. It’s really clear there is a lot going on here, and I totally agree, the Bay Area can be a really tough place to try to make it work, especially us locals trying to move up from where we started out.

      Marina Counseling and Haight Ashbury psychological services both offer sliding scale therapy, and they will work with you even if what the scale say it should be and what you can actually afford are different. Both programs have been a huge help for me at hard points in my life.

      I know there are equivalent programs int he east and south bay, but I’m afraid I don’t know names. I genuinely wish you well, it’s hard working in a place you don’t feel respected. I would reconsider not talking with your HR person, though. They were doing what they needed to do in the situation. Yeah, HR isn’t your friend, but it also does not mean that what they told you was a personal take down. In fact, I would believe their attempts to talk to you were to try to show that there weren’t hard feeling from their side.

  4. Alexis Rose*

    Oh dear. It seems that very little of Alison’s advice sunk in. OP I hope you are able to find a better job in a place that is more of cultural fit for you, but I do also hope you look back on this once you are out and realize that your investment in this was probably not the best use of your time and energy.

    1. MK*

      I don’t want to speculate, but I wonder how much the OP’s attitude is an obstacle in their finding a new job. Frankly, I find alarming the hostility coming out of the letter for… pretty much everyone, from the HR representative who was only doing their job and is now trying to be professionally polite (the OP apparently cannot even bear to look at them!) to the outside consultant that seems to be trying to build a relationship with their client (if they are keeping on the phone talking about things you have no authority over, you cut them off, you don’t let them go on and then overbill your company and then think your managers are unreasonable to complain about this). And I frankly cannot understand what is supposed to be going on there? They are paying the OP, who is a “working class” software engineer, a “blue collar salary” and then paying a lot of money to an outside consultant to sabotage the OP’s work? If the OP is already severely underpaid and barely making ends meet, why is the fact that tech jobs aren’t well-paid relevant? I don’t know anything about this field and I do know San Fransisco is very expensive (that’s where the bay area is, right?), but it really sounds as if any change, even if it came with financial sacrifices, would be better than staying at this job.

      1. CR*

        I had the same thoughts. Someone who is so bitter, negative and full of anxiety will project a very negative attitude that is not attractive to employers.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        That might be true. She might be being ‘too honest’ with new employers over why she’s looking for a new job. Used to work with a girl who really hated our company and had ton of trouble finding a new job because she would go off about what’s wrong with the current one during interviews. Once she backed down she got another job quickly.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          As a hiring officer, I never wanted to hear a long story about why you were leaving your old job. If you focus an extreme amount on the negatives of your old company, I am worried you will focus an extreme around on the negatives of our company (and yes, while I liked most of the companies for which I worked, there were always some negatives)

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            And in all honesty, after a honeymoon period perhaps, I’m afraid that’s unfortunately likely with this LW. While it’s true that they have legitimate grievances with their business’ pay scale and to some (MUCH more minor than they realize) extent with its laissez-faire approach to the recycling laws, so much of their anger appears to be coming from their own attitude rather than their circumstances that I would think it’s entirely probable they’ll take that anger with them to wherever else they work.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*


            Over the years I’m learned that every company has its flaws, and if asked I say so in the interview with a shrug. They usually nod, and I can see them thinking of theirs, or blink like a deer in the headlights. Then I don’t go into details, but pivot into what I’m looking for next in their company (new technology, different product type, etc.) The ones who nod I get callbacks from – they’re realists. The ones I don’t are corporate koolaid drinkers, and I really wouldn’t want to work for them.

            If they ask what kind of flaws I’ve seen, I keep it general – eg silos, micromanagement, magical thinking, cult of personality, cheese paring, not environmentally conscious, etc. Usually these are known in the industry for a big company. Also, what is one person’s flaw may be another person’s heaven.

            But companies are comprised of people, and all have their flaws. The only question is whether they are flaws that you can work with.

          3. X. Trapnel*

            I’ve never hired or fired anyone, but I think OP is putting out similar red flags to the person on a first date who spends it complaining vociferously about how awful their ex is.

            Such in-your-face levels of dissatisfaction and misery are off-putting, which is unfortunate for the person at the heart of this vicious circle of being unhappy, complaining, pushing others away because of the endless complaining, then being miserable because others avoid them.

            I’m sorry OP, but I do think you need to take stock of your situation and consider opening your mind to some of the helpful hints that Alison and her community here have shared with you and I hope you find a better place in life.

            1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

              That’s exactly the feeling I had about their interviews… with the implied “will you be the one who saves me?”

              In a previous company I was a hiring manager (now I’m voluntarily an individual contributor as management wasn’t my Thing) and while interviewing people I came across a few candidates who gave me the “save me from my situation” spidey sense when interviewing for positions.

              It isn’t anything concrete I can put my finger on, and certainly isn’t due to any kind of ‘prejudice’ or ‘recruiting people who fit the majority’ or anything like that.

              I wouldn’t rule out someone from moving forward in the application process just due to that, and as much as I think “spidey senses” etc have value, they ultimately have value as additional information to be assessed rationally. But there were quite a few people who set off this sense, and I get the feeling OP would likely be one of them from what they’ve written.

          4. NotAnotherManager!*

            Same – I’d like to know why you’re interested in MY job, and that often comes with a reference to what’s lacking in their current job; however, framing/time spent on it is important. If a candidate uses that question to spin off into all the things terrible about their current employer rather than something like, “I have found that chocolate teapots, like the ones I’d be creating here, are my passion, and I’m not getting as much opportunity to work with them in my current position”…. I’m going to have Concerns.

      3. serenity*

        All good points. I feel for OP, who’s clearly not in a happy place right now, and I hope they can move on from this job. But the hostility that’s seemingly coming out towards everyone seems like it’s going to be a hurdle for them.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Toxic places can do this to people, toxic places make people “less than”- as they are loaded up with fear, no one is trust-worthy, the world works against them and so on. Only you know what is the raw truth here, OP.

          1. MK*

            He, what good does it do the OP to “know the raw truth” if it leads to an attitude that hinders them from getting away from this toxic situation? Yes, very probably the toxicity of their workplace might have created this hostility in the OP. They still have to consider if it is an obstacle to their getting out of what sounds like a dead end situation.

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          I really hope they find another job soon. This situation can’t be good for OP’s mental health, and regardless of who is right or wrong, a change of scene could definitely improve their life. Plus, the rest of the office is probably feeling antagonized and hated too, just as much as OP is.

      4. Sandangel*

        Definitely. OP is radiating “ticking time bomb” all over the place every time they post. I wouldn’t want this person working near me, I already had to deal with that when my sister was burnt out from her previous job. OP really needs to completely detach and chill out first, or they’re never getting out of this situation.

      5. Good Luck OP*

        Honestly, there’s some good advice here, I hope OP is able to hear it. Looking for a new job is a great way to start to feel better day to day – but job searching can be really emotionally fraught and anxiety-provoking, and the feelings of rejection can totally suck.

        OP – if you make it to an interview, do your best not to think of any of this stuff. Talk about your awesome productivity and your accomplishments. Smile and keep it positive, and focused on the job you’re interviewing for. Don’t mention the trash thing, or any of your disagreements at work, or anything about hating HR or the IT consultants or how you’re underpaid. Try to let go of all of that negativity and just sound positive about the new job opportunity you’re there to discuss.

        Good luck!

      6. Alexis Rose*

        I definitely agree…….. But its clear to me that the ship has sailed in current job, so finding a new job and hopefully approaching it from a standpoint of a fresh start is going to help. OP is absolutely going to need to do some work on themselves also. I often find that people don’t realize that they are the common factor in all of their problems, its not that the world is out to get them or that jobs are trying to sabatoge or take advantage, its that people they interact with are picking up on the hostility/paranoia/anxiety and responding in kind…… its not a happy or healthy place to be in and it takes a LOT of work to get out of…..

      7. CaptainoftheNoFunDepartment*

        This is the comment I came here to write. As someone who manages hiring processes, I’ve seen more than a few cover letters that radiate hostility and scream “this person will be difficult to work with”. This update letter has big negative energy and I get the strong sense that LW has difficulty reflecting on their own actions and being accountable when they’re wrong -everything is someone else’s fault.
        Lw, I used to radiate a lot of that same energy and therapy was the only thing that helped. After the therapy, read Alison’s excellent cover letter advice and get yourself into a new role where you can build professional relationships with people you haven’t yet alienated.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Unfortunately, a new job isn’t going to help as long as OP’s attitude remains unchanged.

  5. Lady Heather*

    That sounds like a difficult situation, OP.

    Have you considered seeing a therapist to help process all of this? You sound overwhelmed with negativity, and like you feel you’re being threatened – and that’s allowed, negative situations make you negative and BEC and afraid – and often it’s really hard to change your situation if you’re overwhelmed with the feelings of that situation. (I know therapy probably isn’t free – but you might have sufficient savings to afford it, decent health insurance, or options such as sliding scales, group therapy, infrequent sessions, e-therapy, etc.)

    1. Double A*

      Also, this is what EAPs (Employee assistance plans) are MADE for, and a lot of companies have them. I know LW isn’t willing to talk to HR, but I am guessing HR would be thrilled if you inquired about this option….

      1. HR Ninja*

        I was just going to suggest EAP, especially if the OP is not earning a livable wage. Something that has helped me in the past using post-graduate schools who have therapy/psychology students working their way towards a Masters in counseling. These students have sessions with people on a sliding scale fee. It’s just like a “regular” therapy session where you can talk about your feelings and concerns while brainstorming ideas on how to work through any roadblocks. Everything is confidential. (Unless the student thinks you are a harm to yourself or others.) I utilized this resource for three or four years while I was getting myself back on my feet emotionally and financially.

        1. CircleBack*

          Yes look at nearby schools with graduate students! I was surprised at how affordable it was to get therapy at a nearby school. There are trade-offs – our sessions were recorded so they could review them with their instructors, the counselors tend to be a little young – but it’s better than nothing, and it helped just to have a space to unload to an impartial third party.

            1. Adultiest Adult*

              All therapists have to start somewhere! I compare it to getting a learner’s permit before you get a driver’s license. At least at our agency, we screen the kinds of people we allow our masters-candidate interns to see, and our interns receive weekly feedback about their progress. (We don’t generally record sessions, although sometimes the grad schools request it to monitor the student’s skills.) It can be a good way to access therapy if you don’t have insurance or have a very high deductible.

            2. ThatGirl*

              If you mean doing therapy at a university, it’s because they’re master’s students in training – it’s like being seen at a university teaching hospital clinic or going to a beautician school for a haircut. They’re still being trained, but they’re overseen by fully licensed pros and often do a really good job for a much more affordable rate.

              1. DarnTheMan*

                Pretty much all of the first line therapists we had at my school’s health clinic were masters’ students who were doing it for their clinical practice hours. Granted if they felt the issue was too serious, you would get recommend to a fully licensed practicing therapist but it was really good when you just really needed someone to talk to.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            My mother did this as part of practicum for a Masters in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling.

  6. WellRed*

    The advice the first time around was to let it go, which I am happy to see you’ve done (I’m a big proponent of recycling myself, really). But now you sound a bit overly hung up at having had this addressed.

    “stir up yet another drama storm, walking on egg shells for me now. Like walking through a mine field. Avoid. Avoid.”

    Seriously, OP. Let it go. Focus on the real issues (of which there are many here).

    1. RecoveringSWO*

      I literally started singing that Frozen song about halfway through reading this letter…

    2. Snark no more!*

      I have to stick up for OP here. I’ve been in a similar situation where you’re afraid to open your mouth for anything (even a good morning) for fear of annoying someone with more power than I. Heaven forbid if there’s something that requires an explanation because they don’t want to hear one word. I was actually told to be seen and not heard! And people LIE! It’s a tough row to hoe. I do think therapy will help -at least until you get out.

      1. Kella*

        I have plenty of empathy for the feeling of needing to walk on egg-shells but I think part of the point here is that that reaction is not proportional to what happened. This wasn’t a situation where the OP said something a little off and got in trouble or that there has been a repeated pattern of HR penalizing the OP for minor things. The OP pulled out one specific person’s recycling consistently and left it out for them to find *for a year and a half* without ever talking to them directly about why they were doing it or what they were trying to accomplish. It sounds like they didn’t actually get in trouble, they were just asked, firmly, to stop doing it. OP has for some reason interpreted this one single, reasonable request as them needing to walk on egg shells and self-police their every move.

        1. Heidi*

          It wouldn’t surprise me if the OP’s coworkers felt like they needed to walk on eggshells around him too. This has got to be a unpleasant situation for everyone.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Left it out for the “offender” to find? I had missed that. That’s not helpful, it’s passive-aggressive, and I am not surprised they were asked to stop. If someone did that to me the trash would get moved – to the OPs desk!

          If the recycling is not done to your personal satisfaction, you have the option to re-sort it and put it in the right bins yourself. But passive-aggressively shoving your problem (mis-sorted recycling) onto someone else without a word, even if it’s the mis-sorter, is a step too far. Sure, the first may not get the other person to change, but I guarantee the second definitely won’t. It’s like telling a person to “calm down” when they are irritated – it never works.

          “Hey Cletus, can you please put your aluminum cans in the aluminum recycle bin?” is likely to be a lot more effective than dumping the cans out where he has to deal with them with a word.

          1. IndustriousLabRat*

            +1 the passive aggression of the act that set off this snowball of misery is, IMVHO, very telling. It speaks to why the snowball is still rolling. LW has the choice to melt it with kindness, or be crushed by it.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        I mean, it took 2 years for the original trash complaint to be made. It doesn’t seem it’s an office where every little thing goes to the bosses or HR’s ears. It could be an absolytely dysfunctional place, but it doesn’t seem OP needs to avoid everyone to protect herself. She really does need to let ig go, and work extra hard on finding a new job for her own sanity.

    3. Ellie May*

      I don’t think LW let it go … the non-compliance with recycling has been reported to the city.

      1. D'Arcy*

        It really sounds like LW is deeply resentful that reporting this to the city did not result in their workplace being dramatically raided by the Recycling Police and continues to quietly stew in rage that their coworkers are not being forced to recycle properly.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I mean, I don’t know when this came in, but, if it’s recent, I’m guessing recycling compliance is not head of the priority list right now for a lot of municipalities – public health, loss of tax revenue, emergency programs, etc. – going to guess that other priorities emerged.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        And the most baffling part is why does OP even thinks there’s a non compliance issue here? The company is recycling, so as far as the city goes, they’re fine. Nobody can force individual workers to sort all their trash correctly. Not the city, not the company, *certainly* not OP.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I’m not sure that they have let it go: OP says in the update “I’ve remained fully compliant with HR’s request to not touch or look in the bins anymore throughout this time. I’ve made a point of just avoiding the kitchen altogether since I no longer feel welcome.”
      To me it sounds like it’s still on their mind, but now they are aware they are ‘banned’ (my word, not theirs) from the bin area and by extension feel banished from the kitchen so are just avoiding going in there.
      I think that’s the opposite of letting it go as it seems to be still constantly a thing in the background. Maybe I am reading too much into it.

      I missed the original letter, but would like to write a longer response to this later.

  7. CTT.*

    I’m reminded of that Reddit relationships post that briefly became a meme with “the Iranian Yogurt is not the issue here.” The recycling is not the issue here, it’s being severely underpaid.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I get the impression there are a lot more issues here than simply being underpaid.

      The level of vitriol in this post is… frightening, honestly.

      1. Jay*

        Echoing DAS’s point that being underpaid is not, by a long shot, the only issue, I also thought about the Iranian yogurt line. There’s way more going on between OP and this workplace than difficulty letting bad recycling go.

      2. Heidi*

        At first, I thought that avoiding all coworkers and the kitchen was rather overdoing it. But after trying to consider it from the OP perspective….he was absolutely certain everyone would side with him about engaging in a years-long passive-aggressive trash-picking feud. If he could be so dead wrong about that, what other situations might he be reading differently from everyone else? Maybe the paranoia shouldn’t be so unexpected. It is unsettling, though. It actually reminded me of a book I read about warning signs of workplace violence.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Oh, I absolutely believe that they feel unsafe at that workplace. I just question how much of it’s because of the behavior of the workplace and how much of it’s internal.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Don’t think so; the LW’s first paragraph suggested strongly that they’re underpaying everyone, not just that one person.

        2. IndustriousLabRat*

          This is an important point and one I haven’t seen made yet. And it ties in to the hiring of an outside consultant. The LW interprets the consultant as ‘sabotaging their work’ but I think that statement needs to come with a grain of salt as it is being made by a worker who is frankly pretty salty.

          If I were an employer and saw a worker simply exuding misery, and with a profound lack of self-awareness- No, I would not give them a nice raise. I would not bring them on to better, more fulfilling projects with room for advancement. I would not invest time or money into training them. There’s the risk that the employee would still be miserable, and leave- voluntarily or involuntarily. It’s quite possible that the presence of the consultant is the company taking out an insurance policy against this possibility.

          LW, I feel the pain in your words and would not wish it on anyone. Look around you. Look through a lens of reconciliation- With your HR rep (who sounds like she is acting kindly and professionally), with your coworkers (who may not even know that you are afraid of interacting with them), and most importantly, WITH YOURSELF. Your financial future depends upon coming to terms with the anxiety you have around this job, because you need either to get on track for a raise, or you need a good reference.

          I wish you prosperity. You should definitely talk to a counselor/coach about how to make that happen. But don’t wait to talk to someone to smile at the next coworker you encounter! You won’t get back what you aren’t willing to give out!

          1. MangoIsNotForYou*

            Exactly – I wrote in a while ago about an employee of mine who was struggling to understand why his career wasn’t advancing. At first it was about him not having the technical skills. Later, it was about his miserable attitude, his hostility toward anyone he perceived as more successful than him, and his total lack of awareness about his ongoing total lack of technical skills. When he left our workplace, he left a series of incredibly angry reviews on Glassdoor and Indeed decrying our otherwise fairly peaceful office as toxic and dysfunctional.

            The reality was that we were an office of mostly very nice, mostly very helpful human beings. 90% of the issues he had were self-created, and since he was utterly unwilling to look inward and try to understand why something like a few plants spaced unevenly on a windowsill would send him into a day-long rage spiral, nothing we could do accommodation-wise could make much of a difference.

            I haven’t dared check him out on LinkedIn, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s job-hopped at least once more since leaving us.

          2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            > If I were an employer and saw a worker simply exuding misery, and with a profound lack of self-awareness- No, I would not give them a nice raise. I would not bring them on to better, more fulfilling projects with room for advancement. I would not invest time or money into training them.

            Wouldn’t you at least try to seek some understanding of why it is that they are “exuding misery” etc, rather than just write them off [“I would not invest time or money into training them”]?

      3. Tough Love from a Bay Area Techie*

        The level of vitriol in this post is… frightening, honestly.


  8. Ray Gillette*

    Sounds like Alison nailed it in her initial response when she said it sounds like this is about much bigger issues than the kitchen, and the kitchen feels like something you can control. I hope you can get out soon.

    1. Jenny*

      Yeah. The problem is focusing all the energy in this one thing makes LW seems somewhat irrational. It’s just bad all around.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I lived in the Bay Area and I worked in a field with a lot of people from working class families who were also working in jobs that paid $10-$25 an hour (so $20K-$50K a year.) If you do not have a spouse or family you can double up with to share expenses, it is an astonishing struggle. For natives who grew up there, their parents often ended up in the area before the tech sector blew up, and they are being swallowed whole by the tech money compared to the sorts of jobs they are working in. I have a ton of empathy for someone in that position, it is probably a huge factor in the OP’s mental health and frame of mind re: this situation.

    2. starsaphire*

      I agree, and I think this requires a two-pronged approach: Get Out, and Get Help. Not sure which of those should come first, but they both need to happen.

      OP, you would benefit strongly from a fresh start at a new (hopefully better-paying) job. Not sure what part of the Bay Area you are in, but there are always places to look. (Even with Covid and the spread of VC funding to the middle states, the Bay Area is still in the top rankings for new startups — and a startup would be a great place to influence the company culture with your ideas on environmental responsibility.)

      You would also benefit from talk therapy with someone who will listen to you and understand you, and give you better tools to cope with your frustration. There is nothing wrong with getting therapy; lots of us (I’d hazard to say most of us) have done it.

      I hope that you can find help and find a better cultural fit for yourself.

    1. Maybe It's This*

      Based on the OP’s original question, the OP’s response in the comments about the original question, and this follow-up, my sense is that this is a “neurodiversity” issue. We assume that the OP can understand things the way we think a “normal” person does, but it could be that we’re saying “Choose the blue one!” over and over again to someone who can’t see colors and doesn’t understand what the color blue is.

      This could be an issue related to being on the autism spectrum (I have a family member with Asperger’s who has experiences very much like those in the OP’s posts), a mental health condition, possibly combined with something like Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (which is different from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), or something else altogether. We have no way of knowing from the very limited information we have been provided in this situation.

      BUT, if you are reading this OP, I hope you will seriously consider getting a professional physical and mental health assessment. Be sure to share as much detail as possible about situations like this in which you are experiencing challenges. There may be options for you that will make your life happier, and help you achieve more of what you want. Good luck to you.

      1. Ice and Indigo*

        Armchair diagnosis isn’t usually a good idea, and a hostile and inflexible attitude can have lots of different causes. Let’s not bolster the stereotype that ‘neurodivergent’ equals ‘unfriendly.’

  9. Dust Bunny*

    For the record, I’ve had problems with anxiety in the past (less so currently, but mostly because my circumstances are better): I don’t recommend flippantly that people consider counseling, but it might do some good here to talk about this with someone if you can. I somewhat wonder if the recycling has become a problem because it feels like something you should be able to “fix” about an overall-awful job and living situation.

    You really, really, need to move past this. You have enough going on without making yourself additionally miserable about this.

    (Side note, and I realize this will fall on deaf ears but here goes: Individual recycling is a trickle-down shame game. What we need to save the planet is to produce less waste in the first place. I’m a committed recycler, too, but we can’t save the planet from this end–we have to get companies to produce less to begin with. We’ll keep doing what we can but don’t lose sight of the fact that your office trash is a scant drop in the ocean.)

    1. MicroManagered*

      I love the phrase “trickle-down shame game” to describe it. People who fixate on certain issues like this really do a disservice to their cause.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      This is really well put. Focusing on recycle policing each other just distracts people from the much more pressing need to regulate polluting industries.

      Being environmentally conscious has become an expensive, confusing, neverending game of researching every single consumer choice you make and trying to find one that’s the least evil to the world around you. What we need are laws then ensure that all of the choices commercially available will be ethical and sustainable.

    3. Vanilla Nice*

      ^ Dust Bunny’s suggestion was my immediate thought as well, but much better expressed than I could come up with. I’ve been trapped before in jobs that were in toxic organizations or just a bad fit (I once stayed in one for 7 years that I should have left after 2!), and I know it’s easy to lose perspective when things aren’t going well.

      I wish the LW well, but I think they’re going to have to do some more personal reflection to find a way out of this.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Very much agree with this.

      I’m speaking as one who has had a severe mental crisis this year and I’m very concerned that OP may be heading down the same road and I don’t want anybody to face that. Nobody at all.

      One of the things my wonderful psychiatric team helped me to work out is when and how to let certain things just go without taking up brain space. Assume good intentions of people who are nice to me! Accept things you have no power over ever being able to change (I’ve actually stopped reading the news. Had to, for my sanity). Learn to put stresses and worries aside for a few minutes (tell myself I’ll deal with them later) then increase that up to half hour, then hour, then days.

      I was trapped in a loop of ‘if I can just fix this ONE thing that’s wrong here then my life would be ok’ and ‘nobody WANTS to fix these things so my life is crud and it’s all somebody else’s fault’ and this, coupled with outstanding mental illnesses and close friends dying to Covid, got to a point where my sanity shut down entirely and I got hospitalised.

      Please, OP, don’t follow my path. Get some therapy or any other mental health support that’ll help you.

      1. A Silver Spork*

        I am so, so sorry that you had to go through that. I hope your recovery is going well, and I second the therapy + stop reading the news thing. (I stopped reading the news in late 2013, and it saved me A LOT of pain as things just got worse and worse all over the place.)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Thank you, means a lot :)

          I’ve lost 2 friends to Covid, one of my family members decided that this was a grand time to start lecturing me on how the government was lying and nobody has died (where are my friends then?!), I got turned down for another job, the news was so horribly depressing, etc.

          Nowadays I’m going to mourn my friends, I’m not listening to anyone who spouts conspiracies and I’m not reading the news anymore. It feels better!

    5. RoseMai*

      I do recommend that everyone (who can afford it) considers counseling. Seriously, maybe it’s because I live in the Northeast US and we’re known to be high strung, but I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from talking to someone.

      I think part of the stigma around counseling is that people think you have to be doing really poorly or having some sort of big issue before you call someone. But it’s so helpful to have a neutral, third-party listen to you and give honest feedback and advice. Even on something small.

      Plus, if you put in time now to find a counselor you click with, if you ever do have a bigger crisis come up, you’ll have a trusted person to reach out to!

      And echoing other commenters, Employee Assistance Programs often offer free counseling sessions as part of your benefit. It’s free and confidential, so why not give it a go?

      /pro-therapy rant

  10. Not Your Lawyer*

    OP, I’m sure that everyone else would like to let this go and you’ve continued to carry it around, and have even gone out of your way to avoid interacting with people and the kitchen. This isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It isn’t going to make anyone look at you and think “Wow, he was right about the recycling issue, I see the error of my ways.” They’re going to look at you and think “Wow, he’s being strange” or “Wow, he’s a cold/terse person” or even “He picked a weird hill to die on.” I speak from experience. We had someone who had a similar beef with a coworker. She would get very cold, very terse when she saw him, and when he did a particular action she didn’t agree with, she went out of her way to undo it. Because the initial altercation had happened years ago, she ended up just looking angry and bitter and not like someone with a legitimate point to prove.

    “HR are not your friends…” This is true. They’re not there to be your friends, and it would be pretty problematic if they were. But making friendly small talk is part of working with other people. You can be pleasant to coworkers (and you need to maintain some minimal level of politeness) without getting inappropriately close to them.

    I agree with Alison in that it seems like you’ve channeled all of your job frustrations into the recycling issue, and it doesn’t seem like you’ve learned anything on either front. At least you’re applying to other places, so keep doing that and keep reminding yourself that this particular job is temporary and that you’re not stuck there forever.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      OP, another thing to realize here is that you are surrounded by people all the time who don’t recycle or compost properly. As another Bay Area resident, I know not all of my neighbors sort everything the way they should for the recycling and compost bins. But they are still my neighbors and we get along well. I think this is comparable to the workplace, where all of us interact with people all day long.

      In your situation, you are suspicious of every single person and avoiding the kitchen. This has no effect whatsoever on any of them, but it does make your own quality of life miserable. I hope you can find a way to recognize that your co-workers are not in the least thinking about your behavior in the kitchen a year after you submitted your original letter.

      I hope you will check out Alison’s guidance about cover letters and resumes, because with your skills, you have a good shot at getting a higher paid position even in the Bay Area.

    2. winter*

      You raise great points in your first paragraph and I would go even further: It sounds to me like OP has a severe case of learned helplessness which could use looking into assertive communication.

      OP, a long time ago I would go about issues that bothered me the same way (though I would not have picked things out of dirty trash and keep putting it in top of the bin).
      Whenever there was an issue with somebody I would go quiet and seething, maybe passive-aggressive – but never be direct with the other person. Partly because it’s scary to address someone that way, partly because I wouldn’t even have found the right words without showing ALL of my bad feelings, but most importantly because I didn’t feel like anything could ever be changed, that there was no point.

      Trust me, I had to put in a LOT of work between there and now, but it was worth it because I now know in my heart of hearts that it makes sense to address things directly with people and that I am able to change my own circumstances by taking action. Incidentally it also makes me more approachable.

      Nobody can do the work of changing your circumstances for you, but I’m really heartened to read that you are looking for a new job. Taking action on behalf of yourself is the healthiest thing you can do (and I mean taking action to change your circumstances – recycling has only very vaguely to do with yourself).

      To proceed I agree with the commenters that councelling would be beneficial. There is a chance that all the worries that are weighing you down are also holding you back in your job search and you deserve to address them in a safe space.

      1. Lizzo*

        There’s a book called Crucial Conversations that would be an extremely helpful resource with respect to assertive and effective communication. The authors discuss how silence and violence are the two extremes of communication–neither of which are effective–and how to reach the happy medium between the two of them.

  11. juliebulie*

    I think that if you decide that proper recycling is more important to you than any other facet of your job, you are sure to be miserable there.

    I’m not judging you for it; in fact I admire you for standing behind your priorities. But, you are miserable. And there is a good chance that you will have similar issues at any other workplace unless you can get a permanent WFH gig.

    If you are really lucky, you’ll find a job where you are empowered to take the lead in helping the company be more green. I hope you can find something like that.

  12. AngryAngryAlice*

    I’m very sorry that you’re so miserable at work, LW. The second half of your letter made me really feel for you, and I hope you can get out of there.

    The first half, however….. I think you severely missed the point of why you were called into HR. And while you’re right that HR is not you’re friend, your reasoning that brought you to that conclusion is incredibly off-base. Your coworkers aren’t out to get you the way you seem to believe they are, and it sounds like HR isn’t out to get you either. I wonder if the misery you feel elsewhere in your job has seeped into your ability to view this situation clearly, which brings me back to my original point: I hope you’re able to get out of there soon.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      well, hang on: one person called HR ‘daily’ and said LW made them ‘afraid’. That sounds like ‘out to get’ to me. HR, sure, they’re just doing their job, but there is a person there who is a problem for LW.

      I do think LW has enough information to safely make an assumption about who it is, be extra careful / extra polite with that one person, and be more relaxed with everyone else, but if LW’s concerned that the ‘daily’ calls came from multiple people, then ‘being super careful’ is a legit response to a toxic workplace.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        If LW was making somebody afraid on a daily basis, either that person has issues or LW isn’t fessing up to all aspects of his behavior, which I think is at least somewhat possible given the general tone of this update.

        1. Howard Bannister*

          Remember that the LW wasn’t just handling the garbage, they were finding the person’s recycling and putting it on the lid of the recycling container to send a message to the person.

          If that person was reporting every incidence where the LW was ‘sending them a message’ then, yeah, that would be daily.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            And honestly, I might get pretty worried if somebody was doing that, while also exhibiting the same level of general rage and obsessiveness about me and this issue that this LW had shown us in their two letters. As someone else said above, there are elements of this LW’s attitude which are uncomfortably reminiscent of the typical signs of potential workplace violence, and even though LW may absolutely never have thought of anything like that for one moment, the trash-mixing colleague doesn’t know that. If I were in their situation I’d probably just have gotten more careful about where I put my trash in the first place before all this… but I’m a pretty careful recycler to begin with, so that seems like an obvious change to me. It might not to them, especially if they’re feeling threatened, which can get people’s backs up in a hurry.

            I don’t think it’s all that unreasonable for someone to take a year and a half of this as a scary degree of obsession, and report it as such. Nor to let them know “still doing it, yep” for as long as it continued after that (especially if HR asked for follow ups, which they might have done and wouldn’t likely have told LW if they did).

            The part which confuses me is why HR let this continue for an extended period of piling up “yep, still doing it” reports before addressing the matter. They didn’t ultimately do anything except tell LW to stop — why wouldn’t they do that after they were first told that this has been going on daily for some time, rather than waiting through an extended period of daily reports? If I were the reporting coworker, I would be really frustrated that this person was scaring me and I kept telling HR so and they kept doing nothing about it except tell me “yeah, we heard you already.”

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              The coworker might not have known who was digging into the trash until shortly before HR spoke to OP. It might just have been “somebody is obsessed with me, they’re going through my trash daily and leaving it on top of the bin”. And it could easily be multiple people complaining about the trash situation in general; I’d definitely complain if somebody was going through trash and leaving itout, no matter whose or for what reason.

          2. A*

            Exactly. I’ll be honest – I pick cardboard boxes and bottles out of the bin in the kitchen at work (before COVID) to recycle them. I put up a sign once saying to leave them on the counter if they didn’t have time to break them down, but it was taken down. I took the hint, and left it at that. I still recycle them, but I’m not going to push it any farther – it’s somewhat disappointing but ultimately all I care about is getting it taken care of.

            The obsessive focus, and taking it a step farther with ‘sending a message’ (let alone for over a year) definitely crossed the line. And it is definitely concerning that OP assumed it’s an attack against them when the items where placed back in the trash. At least in my office, the issue isn’t that my colleagues are anti-recycling, or actively trying to ignore my wishes – it’s because they literally don’t think about it. I can guarantee that OP’s colleagues are not reading into this to the extent they are.

        2. rosegoldpark*

          This sounds like someone is glaringly missing the social cues and norms of the office.

      2. Val Z*

        OP assumes there is only one person calling HR daily, but I wouldn’t be surprised if multiple people noticed OP’s behavior and made separate reports and HR may have asked them to report again if they see the behavior again so they can document the pattern.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yep. The level of anger and the repeated actions would put this in Gift of Fear level trust your gut stuff, even if I always separated my trash immaculately and was not the target.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I don’t think I’d say that person was “out to get” LW. I would have serious concerns if one of my colleagues was routinely digging through the trash and pulling things out and whatever else was happening.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        “well, hang on: one person called HR ‘daily’ and said LW made them ‘afraid’. That sounds like ‘out to get’ to me.”

        I just want to point out that to OP’s colleagues, it may not have been readily apparent that this was about recycling. If I regularly saw one of my colleagues angrily digging through the kitchen trash in search of one or two specific pieces of trash and then placing it on top of the bin rather than putting it in the recycling, I don’t know if I would think “oh this must be about recycling”. If I realised that it was one specific person’s trash they were angrily searching for, I think I would be extremely concerned. Calling HR, even calling HR a lot, and saying you’re afraid in that situation doesn’t sound like “out to get me” to me.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I can see this position, but I don’t think it’s fair to completely dismiss OP’s perspective either.

          For me, it was the ‘daily’ reports that are a warning flag. Yes, LW’s over the top for re-sorting, but… who goes to HR daily because someone’s going through the trash and complaining about not recycling? That’s not dangerous behavior, daily is a serious over-reaction.

          To me, there’s an element of trying to weaponize HR in that detail.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            I get where you’re coming from, but I really can see why someone might interpret it as dangerous or the precursor to dangerous behaviour. I don’t know if you read the OPs comments in the first post, but the overall vibe of almost everything they say is – to me, certainly – one of pent-up rage, resentment and obsessiveness. And when the vibe is that strong in their writing, I think there is a strong chance they are coming across like that in real life as well. If I saw a guy with that overall vibe digging through the bins every day for two years searching for one person’s trash, I would not think “recycling”, I would think “huge red flag”. If, for example, the person in question had experience of stalkers, I can see why they would feel they needed to contact HR – and if it had been going unaddressed for two years, then yes, maybe even contact them daily.

          2. lasslisa*

            Often when you complain to HR they want close monitoring and documentation – ok, track how often they do it, give me a log of exact incidents, etc. I could see someone who was on their Last Nerve about a year (a year!) of hassling being like, ok, if I have to track it, I will make sure to let them know exactly how bad it is.

          3. Lady Meyneth*

            Did they even know it was about recycling? It doesn’t seem like OP ever spoke to them about it, so they might not. Then it would just seem like “somebody is obsessed with me and digs trhough my trash all the time”. This is actually classic stalker behavior, and it’s not unreasonable to be uneasy about it.

            *I’m not saying OP is a stalker, just mentioning how it might look to an ousider.

      5. Batgirl*

        Or they were just ‘out to get’ the trash situation resolved to their satisfaction. There’s not been a peep out of them since it was.

      6. WFHHalloweenCat*

        If someone was taking just my personal garbage out of a communal trash can every single day and (at least some of the time) displaying that trash with the intention that I see it, I would be scared. And I would be calling HR every single day until something was done about it. This is very strange, targeted behaviour. I don’t think the coworker was out to get OP.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          What scares you about that? (This is a serious question, because this is not behavior I see as threatening, so I’m trying to understand why others might)

          If someone took my trash out every day and displayed it, I would feel something, but not fear. If recyclables, I’d feel shame; if other trash, I’d feel… I dunno, scorn, or pity. For reference, I’m a 50ish white woman, very tall and sturdy. I’ve had my share of stalkers / attempted abusers within social groups, but my size limits stranger threats, so I know my gift of fear’s not got the same calibration as other people.

          1. rubble*

            it implies that you are being watched closely enough that someone knows exactly what trash is yours. that’s the threatening part of the behaviour, imho.

          2. A Silver Spork*

            My sister and grandmother both went through my (and sometimes other people’s) trash for… I don’t know why, they never gave me reasons, but they WOULD bring up “oh, I saw this thing in the trash” in an accusatory tone and then follow it up by grilling me over all of my TERRIBLE AWFUL LIFE CHOICES. Life choices like buying the $10 shampoo instead of the $5 shampoo and waaaaaasting mooooooney (and then they’d accuse me of lying when I said I was allergic to something in the cheap stuff). Made me feel judged, angry, out of control, and, yeah, afraid. Trash is so weirdly personal, for what it is.

            Now, the dynamics of family members sharing a bathroom are different from a coworker in the same office. You’re probably not tossing out personal stuff in the kitchen trash, and the OP’s coworkers probably don’t have a lifetime of bad memories with them. But it still reads, to a lot of people, as a very aggressive act, and if OP’s anger is as visible in person as it is through their letters… I’d be pretty worried too, especially since I probably wouldn’t realize “oh, it’s about the recycling” – I’d probably be thinking that maybe OP was a stalker, or looking for some sort of dirt to bring to management, or possibly trying to intimidate someone into quitting.

            Does that make sense?

          3. winter*

            There mere fact of keeping this up for 1,5 years (anything more than 1-2 weeks really) is seriously disconcerting.
            Paired with the fact that OP seems to not speak up about it at all so the offender/the colleagues wouldn’t even know the why of the situation, but see him quietly seeth instead… yeah that’s a bad vibe.

            1. Ethyl*

              I also really, really wonder what the LW said if/when one of their coworkers walked in and asked what they were doing. If they said anything remotely resembling some of the language in their letter and comments, like that someone needed to be taught a lesson or something like that, then that would push it from weird to scary real quick.

      7. MonteCristo*

        If someone was pulling my trash out every single day and stacking it on the trash can I’d get really uncomfortable real fast. I’m more of a confrontational person myself, so I’d be unlikely to approach H.R. but I can totally understand how someone could feel unsafe in that situation.

  13. coldbrewraktajino*

    I’m confused. Has there been more conflict, or is the OP simply worried about additional conflict?

    This definitely sounds like a situation where frustration over certain aspects of a job are spilling over into every facet. That pay scale is abhorrent! I hope you are able to get to a better situation soon.

    1. CastIrony*

      I think it’s the latter. I hate conflict so much that I’ve avoid people like this, and even requested to not work with them, though in my case, it was because the other person was so out to get me that he would always find something to scold me over, and it got to the point where he wasn’t willing to give me the information I needed in a timely manner.

      This all changed after COVID-19 forced my workplace to pretty much close. He was stressed, and I was scared, but now we’ve made progress.

  14. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    Like Alison said in her initial response, there’s definitely more going on than the kitchen issues & under market salary. OP I’d advise a step back and a honest reassessment of your attitude. Based on the language and tone in your update, it sounds like you’re suffering from burnout. If it’s showing here in your update, it’s definitely showing up in your application materials for other positions and is potentially why despite your skills you’re not hearing back.

  15. Me*

    It doesn’t seem like the OP was very successful at following Allisons advice. I think their overall unhappiness with eh job is seriously coloring their view. I hope for their sake they consider moving on even if it means literally moving.

  16. MicroManagered*

    LW it sounds like you have not accepted that what you were doing was not appropriate and legitimately made people uncomfortable. You don’t need to fear and mistrust every coworker… you needed to stop going through their garbage. (I get that they were in the wrong for sorting incorrectly, and I’m not disputing that, but two wrongs don’t make a right.)

    That said, I think your level of investment in this, even a year later, has less to do with the recycling and more to do with this:

    The company is still severely underpaying me, exploiting me as extremely cheap labor paying me a blue-collar wage for software engineering and IT work, going out of their way to sabotage my work and hiring outside consultants who constantly break systems that I have to scramble to fix, then have the nerve to complain to me…

    I hope you are able to find a better job soon.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, the fact that the passive-aggressive trash-being-set-on-the-garbage-lid idea even occurred to OP, let alone that they continued with it for months in order to send a message, shows that they have very immature conflict resolution strategies. The fact that they don’t even seem to acknowledge the original advice in this update, seem even more dug into the idea that everyone’s out to get them, they couldn’t possibly find a decent paying job, they’re a martyr for their daily garbage patrolling… None of this is good.

      OP, you’re going to be in a much better place emotionally to get and do well at a new job that pays decently if you deal with this obsessiveness and flawed coping strategies. Think of it this way – with therapy you can learn to be a much more effective messenger for environmental ideas.

    2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

      It seems to me that this person simply doesn’t care — their recycling and environmental concerns are more important to them than being a reasonable human. Which would be fine (I don’t particularly care much about others as a rule, most of the time), if they weren’t so insistent that everyone must care about their pet project as much as they do.

      Even as a person who can be entirely unreasonable when my emotions are engaged, I had a side-eye “Wow, is this what I look like to other people? *cringe*” while reading the original letter, and the person’s behavior in the comments.

      This person is unlikely to want to change their behavior, because they don’t see it as the wrong behavior.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Okay, but for their own sake they should at least try to take in the fact that their behavior (and the attitude that inspires it) is going to be a serious hindrance in getting other work. Most places don’t want somebody who radiates bitterness and paranoia, and those seem like the biggest problems here — not simply not caring what anyone thinks (though that would also be enough to make me decide not to hire someone; empathy matters to me in selecting a team that would need to work together).

  17. Ping*

    Oh my. OP, your anxiety is really affecting your life far, far more than you think it is. It is crippling it. I also see a lot of blaming and victimhood. You need to consider why all the problems in your life are apparently generated by someone else. You also need to see why the fix for the problems has to come from you, Even if others are involved. No one else will rescue you.
    I honestly don’t see this changing until you get some counseling. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh.

    1. remizidae*

      +1. If everything in your life is someone else’s fault, nothing will ever get better.

      1. Amy Sly*

        One of Despair.com’s greats: The picture is a chain with one link separating. “The only consistent feature of all of your dissatisfying relationships is you.”

    2. RedCat*

      Came here to say exactly this.
      Was a hard lesson for me to learn but when I accepted my own responsibilities my life got better almost instantly.
      It is incredible how much control I got over my life once I accepted that even the crappiest circumstances ain’t not the reason I felt bad, it was my lack of real action that almost drowned me.

  18. cosmicgorilla*

    “He keeps me on the phone…”

    No, you STAY on the phone. You can redirect the conversation. You can make it clear you’re not interested in hearing about these other products and don’t have the authority to make purchase decisions. You can hang up.

    What I’m reading is a lot of blame-shifting.

    HR would expect that they’ve asked you to correct your behavior, you did, so now you can all go back to acting like grown-ups. There’s no need to avoid the kitchen (unless your thoughts about at unsorted trash is leading you to anxiety), and no reason to avoid that HR rep. Why are you avoiding them? Are you embarrassed?

    1. Littorally*

      It’s really fascinating to me, the areas where the OP feels that they have no control and the areas they feel like they do (or perhaps should) control.

      Can’t get off the phone with the IT guy, but can change your entire company culture around recycling? Phew.

    2. Anne Elliot*

      OP, I am very hesitant to add to your high level of anxiety related to your job, but I feel compelled to point out that moving on from this current job may not just a good idea, it may be an imperative. It is extremely unlikely that you have successfully hidden your job-related misery and resentment, especially given that you are actively avoiding your coworkers and parts of your office. Employees who are miserable and resentful are not good employees; indeed, they can be toxic employees, and please know that this is true regardless of whether their misery and resentment is or is not justified. Toxic employees tend to get moved out for the greater good of the company. Based on your letter, I would have concerns that whether you leave this job or not ultimately may not be up to you or on your terms. For that reason alone, if I were you, I would be aggressively seeking another job, any other job, and making moving on from this company my highest priority.

  19. Cassidy*

    Curious: If you get a different job, will you go through your new co-workers’ trash bins? Will you monitor your new employer’s adherence to recycling codes?

    I understand your sense of urgency about the environmental impacts of not recycling, but it seems to me that your approach isn’t winning over people in a way that they’d want to join you in your fight.

    I don’t mean this unkindly, but it does seem you’re a bit obsessive about this. I sincerely hope you’re able to get to a place emotionally where you are able to accept that you will do what you can do within your own space, advocate for what you can within your own space, and influence others within your own space; and that otherwise, you will be okay with the rest of the world taking care of itself.

    Because if our future rests with the Greta Thunbergs of the world, we are in very good hands.

    I wish you inner peace for all the days.

    1. Val Z*

      “Curious: If you get a different job, will you go through your new co-workers’ trash bins? Will you monitor your new employer’s adherence to recycling codes?”

      This is a really good point. Every office I’ve worked in has people who don’t recycle correctly. It’s just part of sharing an office with lots of other people. OP needs to learn how to change how they react to it because its an issue they will encounter long after leaving this job.

      1. Western Rover*

        Most places I’ve worked don’t even have recycle bins, or they have one way down the hall but trash cans a lot closer, and none has ever had a compost bin. OP’s city is probably just happy that OP’s workplace has them, and afraid that if they start scolding them for how they’re used they’ll just take them out.

        1. mgguy*

          Funny enough, my current workplace is the exact opposite. We have recycle bins every 10 feet down the hallways, and there might be 1-2 trashcans on a given floor. All too often, it seems that people get so frustrated finding a trashcan for…well…trash and finally just say “screw it” and throw it into the recycle bin. Occasionally, my desk-side trashcan disappears, and when I go to one of the custodial closets I’ll find a stack of what looks like every office-sized can in the building. Given that there’s only one dumpster behind our building, I strongly suspect that the recycle cans are not treated any differently from trashcans, but that’s another issue…

      2. B**** in the corner of the poster*

        I’m an environmental scientist, and WE can’t get each other to recycle properly. It’s annoying but I have bigger hills to die on.

        1. emmelemm*

          Right? Nobody, nowhere, is being 100% compliant with recycling guidelines. It’s just not realistic. There’s always somebody who’s not going to get it, not going to do it.

      3. TechWorker*

        It’s also *super* passive aggressive to leave the stuff on top of the bin. If they’d resorted it into the right bins… well the company would have still had the right to tell them not to spend time on it, but I doubt anyone would have complained in the first place.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          This. It tries to shame the person who threw it away, plus could interfere with other people using the bins.

          1. Essess*

            Agreed. Even if I wasn’t involved in the feud, I’d be grossed out about having to face trash stacked on the bins every darned day. It’s unsanitary and gross.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Honestly, I wouldn’t even call it passive aggressive. That would be increasingly pushy twee signs.

          Taking trash out and putting it on top of the bins isn’t passive aggressive. It’s active aggressive.

      4. Sorrischian*

        I work in a lab where separation of waste streams is a Big Deal (we have flammable and biohazard wastes on top of lots of documents and labels with personal health information that all have extremely strict rules for disposal that come with actual major consequences) and it’s still a struggle to get people to use the correct trash cans.
        I think this is a universal problem, unfortunately.

        1. mgguy*

          Oh yeah-chemical waste management is a big part of my job. I have my boss’s blessing(encouragement) to walk into a lab and verbal correct/chastise wrong behavior including putting things in the wrong container although I don’t go out of my way looking for violations. The EPA and/or state can and do pop in unannounced, though, and they’re not hesitant to-for example-peek in your solid waste container and make sure there’s nothing in there that shouldn’t be there.

          That’s a bit of a different thing, though, since even though regulations can be confusing, we put very clear rules into place for people to follow and consult on specific items. That may mean, for example, giving one lab a container labeled “Hazardous Waste-Silica Gel with flammable non-hal solvents(hexane, ethyl acetate) and palladium.” At the end of the day a mess up in that department can cost us big money in fines, and over-segration or over-labeling might get flagged by an inspector but will be a correct-in-sight.

    2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Yes, OP, please consider this question – let’s say tomorrow, out of the blue, an amazing job lands in your inbox.

      It’s 5x your salary, 1/2 the commute, 2x the benefits – whatever would really make the sun come out for you. But, they specify that because of their location, or sanitary reasons, or a particular contractor stipulation, every single piece of food consumed on the premises must come single-packaged, and they don’t offer recycling.

      Would you take the job?

      To crib a phrase from Captain Awkward, I think this is a Load Bearing Anxiety. It’s something that will not and cannot be resolved by you. You can control how long you stay on the phone, but you choose not to. You cannot control the wasteflow of your office, but you’re throwing a great deal of energy into trying and now into avoiding the results of that trying. Why is that?

      I don’t have answers – maybe you don’t either. But maybe consider the questions?

      1. Jaybeetee*

        The interesting thing is, Captain Awkward mentioned “load-bearing anxiety” in the context of a letter writer’s spouse who had a ton of environmental anxiety (and was micromanaging the letter writer as a result). The environment is a big, messy problem that isn’t going to go away quickly, even if we do everything right (and we’re not doing everything right). For a certain type of brain, it can provide endless anxiety fodder to gnaw on.

        1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

          Yes! That’s precisely what it reminded me of. In that case, the LW was in the splash zone of the anxious/angry environmental policing – here, we’re right at the impact point.

    3. Sarah*

      Also, right now finding a job is really hard because of COVID, but before that, I’m pretty sure there are 3 possible reasons this person couldn’t find another job. First, I’ve known people who do things like sort other people’s trash and to the extent that they blame other people for it, they seem to have a hostile or argumentative vibe at least some of the time. This sort of thing can come across in interviews. For example, if you so much as mention the office trash in an interview, people are going to think you are nuts. But also they can probably sense your attitude to your current workplace and worry that it has more to do with you than with the specific workplace. This person is likely to not be particularly good at the kind of polite fiction you need in certain situations. One reason I left a job was that they made errors in payroll and took over a month to get me a chair that didn’t cause me physical pain. I have never once mentioned this in an interview. I know that I was professional the whole time, but I want them to think about my skills and not about what a mess an old workplace was.

      The other factor is probably that getting jobs in software is a whole process. It is better to know this going into it. You will get all kinds of technical assessments and technical interviews that involve things you haven’t done since school. It is a different skill than software development. Nonetheless, it is common enough that you would do better to just prepare for it. You might need to literally study. It is a pain, but it is best to look at it as a way to practice CS stuff that might come in handy later. I don’t think it maps particularly well to how good someone would be at a job and there is a lot of randomness in there, which means the other thing you have to do is just keep applying. I normally have to apply for about 30 jobs to get an offer. Right now, that number will be much higher.

      The third is that all this time you are spending focusing on the trash is time that you could be spending working through your emotions, learning new things, and generally making yourself ready for new opportunities. If someone knows about a cool job, they’re not going to tell the guy that won’t even say hi.

      1. Sarah*

        I have it on good authority that you can apply for 80 jobs right now and not get an offer, so you can’t afford not to do some therapy.

      2. we're basically gods*

        It’s probably also worth noting that, especially in big tech hubs, people are far less likely to focus on *just* your ability to program. There’s a ton of developers out there; having solid soft skills can really help set you apart from the pack.

      3. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

        This is a very good point – I’ve done a lot of interviewing, and I’ve spoken to people who just OOZE anger and resentment at their current or former workplaces. It bleeds into every answer they give, every question they ask, every interaction you have with them. Hiring managers and HR departments are going to pass so quick on these people, because the odds are too high that they’ll be just as bitter and angry about this new job as they are about the old one. Nobody wants that toxic energy in their office.

  20. Snargulfuss*

    I think this is a good example of how getting too emotional and badmouthing an employer can reflect more poorly on you than on them, even thought it sounds like there might be some legitimate issues. Honestly I can’t piece together what is true company dysfunction and what is the perspective of a difficult employee.

    OP, for your own sake, I hope that when you’re interviewing for another position you’re able to talk about this experience dispasstionately.

    1. Observer*

      Almost certainly not. The OP clearly does not understand their role in the mess and is reacting really irrationally here.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Yeah, I’m really wondering how much of their inability to find other work is that it’s difficult right now — which is certainly true, but we’ve still heard a lot of positive updates recently from people who tried and succeeded!! — and how much of it is that they come across as obsessively angry and bitter toward their current company in a way which makes a lot of hiring managers edgy. Nobody wants to hire somebody who is showing them red flags from the interview stage… they’re thinking, “if they’re that bad when they’re supposedly on their best behavior because they’re trying to get the job, what will they be like in the day to day work off our office?”

        1. Yikes!*

          Exactly. If the OP is communicating with prospective employers the way he is communicating in this update, good employers would be turned off.

  21. Eukomos*

    You know, HR and your coworkers weren’t blowing up at you unpredictably when they asked you to stop resorting the trash. The trash war thing was obnoxious, and HR was reasonable in asking you to knock it off. You have to figure out how to empathize with them about that and forgive them for asking you to stop. Walking on eggshells around them isn’t necessary, internalizing their objections and understanding their perspective is. Frankly, avoiding them is just another version of the passive-aggressiveness that got you in trouble here in the first place.

    The employer underpaying you isn’t HR’s fault, or your coworkers’ fault, and overreacting to recycling challenges isn’t going to make you feel better even if you win. Recycling isn’t even that good for the environment, and it’s not happening as much as we’d like to imagine since China stopped taking plastic. Focus on steps you can take towards fixing the things that are the source of your unhappiness rather than getting into petty fights with coworkers.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Your first paragraph articulated my thoughts about this so much better than I could!!

    2. megaboo*

      Honestly, if a colleague was searching through my trash on a regular basis, I would contact HR too. That’s a totally reasonable thing to do. The common denominator for OP is OP’s behavior. Putting the blame on conditions does not excuse attitude.

  22. Michelle*

    I hope the OP can find a new, better paying job soon.

    I used to get all worked up because people didn’t follow the RULES. I would go home and vent about the day to my family. One night someone said “If you are that miserable, why not look for another job?”. I said “Why should I give up my seniority and benefits because other people won’t follow the rules?”. They replied “Well you need to either find a new job or figure out how to let it go because if the boss doesn’t care if they don’t follow the rules, you shouldn’t either if it doesn’t affect you. You are upset all the time over stuff you ultimately have no control over”. I knew this all along but having someone else say it made it click in my head. Now I don’t care who does what as long as it doesn’t affect me or my job. I’m so much happier.

    Avoiding coworkers and/or HR is only going to make come off as odd. Do what you can, recycle your stuff and let the others do whatever. It’s easy for me to say and hard to put in practice but I think you would feel so much better. Therapy is a great option if you can go.

    I hope you can find a happier balance. I think a different job would help, so please keep trying.

  23. Matilda Jefferies*

    I’m reminded of this lovely quote from Najwa Zebian:

    These mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.

    OP, you’re carrying a lot of mountains right now, and I expect some of them don’t need to be carried – or at least, they don’t need to be carried by you. I hope you can find your way to peace.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      That is a great quote. I’m going to print it and put it by my desk. It’s a good reminder.

    2. Llama face!*

      Oh that’s lovely! I just shared it with some friends & family! And I see she’s a fellow Canadian. :)

  24. mlk*

    LW, I’m going to focus a bit on the career-side. What’s your job title? Your original letter said that you’re employed as a software engineer, but the update mentions IT and how you have to fix systems that get broken by the overseas contractor. If your job title is more IT-focused but you are writing solutions for internal or external “clients,” see if you can get your job title changed to reflect that.

    Do you have a bachelor’s in computer science or is it another degree?

    I know you probably feel that you don’t have the time, but you might to try work on an open source project or two as a easy way to show your skills. If you mainly work on internal projects, having a portfolio of work that easy to share may be useful.

    Try to network. A friend who does some IT/customer service has gotten side work and job leads through acquaintances and friends that he made at his gym. I’m not suggesting that you try that particular thing, but something anyway.

    1. winter*

      I wondered that as well because there is a considerable difference in pay over here between internal IT and software engineer. The former could not expect to be paid the same as the latter (especially for juniors, though I’m unclear where OP stands).

  25. Nope!*

    I’m bypassing the other parts of this letter since others have said it better and hopping over to the options you received. I work with those! I know you’re angry at your company but I’ve literally seen people lose clear into the six figures letting those expire. Options are absolutely no substitution for a fair salary, but don’t let resentment get in the way of what could potentially be a decent payout. No one can say for sure what those will be worth by expiration, but don’t write it off either.

  26. Caroline Bowman*

    I say this in all seriousness, but OP, have you ever considered a change in career to something that works on environmental stuff? I do think you are very anxious and upset still and the issue with the recycling (I recycle, I compost, I pick up recyclables on the street when I see them, I do beach clean-ups, truly I am 100% in agreement around doing our part to stem the crazy tide of mess and waste) is something you have got completely stuck on.

    The HR person was genuinely doing their job. It doesn’t make sense that they would pay a lot to hire someone to ruin your work, what business would do that, realistically? The pay thing is something to address, for sure, but do that from a calm, methodical place, really research and work out a more reasonable salary and use some of Alison’s great advice to advocate for that.

    But to return to my earlier point; you have a real and genuine passion for environmental protection and you may find that a total career shift into something that helps you to really lean into that, to actively make a serious difference, would generally improve your general contentment. You could really make a difference if you had a mind to, though I appreciate it would be a lot of work and probably not a lot of money initially.

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “I say this in all seriousness, but OP, have you ever considered a change in career to something that works on environmental stuff? ”

      This is a nice idea!

    2. Lils*

      I like this idea too. Sometimes having a deep interest in the work and a commitment to the mission of the organization can make daily work annoyances much less…annoying.

    3. generic_username*

      Based on OP’s indication that they’re getting paid close to minimum wage (after at least 3 years in the business, at this company at the very least), I think now is the PERFECT time to switch to a different career path. Also, I’m a little confused about what OP does professionally, but environmental nonprofits need IT people too! So even if OP wanted to remain in the IT field, they could work somewhere that is passionate about the same things as them.

    4. Kella*

      This is a nice idea in theory, but as an activist I can tell you it is SO IMPORTANT to get really clear on what you control and what you don’t control and being able to define what success looks like for *you*. Even if you dedicate your entire existence to a cause like environmentalism, you can never fix it alone and you need to be able to continue working on it for years without making yourself miserable and without burning out. After all, when you make a career out of activism, you go from thinking about your few coworkers that are doing it wrong to thinking about THE ENTIRE PLANET doing it wrong and it takes some emotional management to cope with that healthfully. From the sound of both letters, I’m not sure OP has the right head space to tackle activism as a career without making them even more miserable.

      1. winter*

        I would be very interested to pick your brain on healthy activism on the weekend open thread, if you’re up for that!

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      This is a good idea. Recycling or environmental companies need IT support and help improving the computerized logistics part of their business.

      There is a caveat here: Environmental consulting companies were laid to waste during the deregulations done by Congress during both Bush’s and the Clinton years. What little came back under Obama is gone again, and now the cuts are deeper. Even if I hadn’t become disabled, I would have had to change careers out of environmental chemistry in the late 90s because the regulatory enforcement and funding were so bad.

      So you might want to look at startups that focus on waste stream diversion and/or repurposing. They may not be in the Bay Area, but moving somewhere cheaper when you rent may not be a bad thing.

  27. Scarlet*

    I get it, OP. It’s ridiculous and frustrating that there are SO MANY PEOPLE in the world that genuinely do not care or don’t even acknowledge (or even outright deny!) the issues our environment is facing. When you meet one of them in person- it’s just… obnoxious. Ridiculous. Like literally outrageous. Your coworker sucks. Period. They are part of the problem 100%

    However. You can’t change them. You can’t change the stance the company takes. They’re not willing to take action on this, and I’m so sorry. You tried, and that’s awesome, but you can’t change this. As one of my aunts said to me once – you can’t control what other people do, you can only control how you react. How you’ve reacted/are reacting (while valid!) seems to be having a real negative influence on your life. You’re stressing yourself out over something you can’t change. Your mental health and your happiness are important. YOU are just as important as the environment. Please continue to care just as much as you do (I have a lot of respect for you for actually sorting other people’s trash, it’s a rare person who would do that), but please continue your efforts in other ways. I’m sorry this is happening and I’m sorry your company won’t act on this.

    And can I just say for the record – THANK YOU for taking it upon yourself to actually take action on something was clearly wrong, and making it right? We need more people like you who care enough to do something about the massive problem our world is facing. Not sure if you got any “thank you’s” in the comments from your last post or if you will here, but thank you for making our world better.

    1. AIM*

      I would not call mounting a years’-long harassment campaign against a coworker that left them feeling frightened “valid,” “awesome,” OR “making our world better,” personally.

      1. Scarlet*

        Harassment campaign? Spare me the drama.

        OP’s feeling ARE valid, and she IS awesome for her unwavering commitment to the environment- regardless of what you would “call it”, personally.

        1. Essess*

          Her commitment would be to go ahead and resort into the correct bins. But instead was leaving the garbage stacked on top of the bins so that someone else would have to clean it up. And I’m sure whoever was the the next person to need to use the bins was just tossing it in the trash to get it out of the way so that they can actually use the bins. So it was causing every other person that uses the bins to have to deal with her vendetta and did not accomplish anything.

          1. Scarlet*

            I don’t think you read the original post. She did re-sort into the correct bins for a long time, got management involved, everything. It wasn’t until the offender continued to refuse to change their behavior that she began stacking on top of the bins.

            Like honestly I might have done the same thing. How frustrating that the person absolutely refused to do something like recycling despite management telling them to.

        2. AIM*

          Agree to disagree. I’m glad we don’t work together if you find literally anything about the OP’s approach to this reasonable, since they are severely out-of-touch with both professional and social norms in their handling of it.

          1. Scarlet*

            Step 1: “Agree to disagree”
            Step 2: [insert insult]

            I’m glad we don’t work together either if that’s the way you talk to people you are agreeing to disagree with. I also strongly disagree with your assessment of what’s out-of-touch professionally and socially, as if you’re the expert on both.

  28. Engineer*

    Holy crap….I read the original post and the follow up, and OP needs to move on from the job, and from the Bay Area. I can only imagine how OP’s work life is negatively affecting all other aspects of their life, and their family’s lives.

    OP, your current employer is paying you just barely above min wage. Although software jobs are hard to come by, are there any other non-software “barely above min wage” jobs out there? You’d get out of a toxic job, and who knows, maybe the next non-software job will have better opportunities.

    FYI: Denver and the Colorado area is ripe with software jobs.

    1. I Heart JavaScript*

      Bay Area software jobs are doing just fine. Some parts of the industry are struggling, but I’ve had lots of friends get new jobs fairly easily, even in the last few months with COVID. My job just hired a new engineer and we’re in publishing and have been hit by the reductions in ad revenue.

      Anyone having serious trouble finding work in the Bay as an engineer is either a new grad or needs work on general job hunting skills.

      Given the OP’s letter, I’m guessing that they’re letting their frustration and anxiety with their current job leak into their job hunt and nothing turns potential employers off faster than someone who sounds bitter or not like a team player.

      I know it can be hard to break the cycle of bitterness and anxiety, especially when you’re burnt out, but confronting that and getting past it is really the first step in getting out of that place.

  29. Clorinda*

    Oh, dear.
    OP, did you really report your company to the city for noncompliance in recycling? That is the very opposite of letting it go.
    Please reconsider your ways. Are you wanting to shift to a different job, maybe even a different career? Won’t you need references from your current employer? What kind of reference will you get if your manager were to sit down and write it today? You’ve got some relationship repair work to do, and that begins with entering into polite conversations with your HR rep, because I absolutely guarantee that every single person in your workspace sees your avoidance maneuvers and judges you for it. This is a bigger problem than some apple cores and water bottles ending in the wrong bin.

  30. Colette*

    OP, you were taking trash (whether or not it was recyclable) and putting it on top of the bins. For over a year.

    And when HR told you to stop, you did (which is good!) But you also:
    – decided to avoid the kitchen altogether because you don’t feel welcome there
    – believe your coworkers are out to get you and report you to HR, and
    – go out of your way to avoid exchanging pleasantries with HR

    This is a really extreme reaction, and is definitely not healthy. (It’s also probably not helping your job hunt, or your career at your current employer.) I agree that it might be worth talking to a therapist.

    Since you believe the new management is driving the company to the ground, take advantage of your current resources to find a way to improve your situation.

  31. EventPlannerGal*

    Oh dear.

    OP, I concur with everyone else that there is a lot going on here. I know it must have been difficult reading the response to your last letter and I’m sure this one will be difficult too, but it sounds like what pretty much everyone was saying last time has fallen on deaf ears. You need to let go of this issue, and “letting go” also means not making a production out of avoiding your own office’s kitchen, not ignoring your colleague’s attempts to be cordial, and not acting like you’re walking on eggshells and skulking around the office waiting to be turned in to the great enemy, HR. Making a production out of *not* doing something is just proof that you have not let it go. All they asked you to do was to stop going through the trash. All you need to do is that.

    I’m sorry about the other issues you talk about – it sounds like you are having a really difficult time. I will say that when somebody is carrying around this much anxiety and hostility (warranted or not) towards their job, it is usually very obvious and may be impacting your job search. I don’t know if you have the resources to work on this in therapy, I’m aware that that’s probably an expensive option in the states, but if there is anything you can do to try and let some of this go – particularly the trash thing – you should do it, even if it’s just, idk, talking it over with a friend willing to be truthful with you about how you’re coming across.

  32. RussianInTexas*

    Whatever I was going to comment would probably get me moderated, so better you than me! You are much more polite.

  33. Smol Book Wizard*

    Being trapped is never a nice feeling, and it radiates off this letter that you’re feeling trapped.
    OP, I hope you find hope soon, and are willing to consider looking for that hope in other healthy ways that you may not have done before (seeking counseling or contacting a mental health hotline, reaching out to friends outside your workplace, learning new skills, volunteering somewhere where you feel engaged and energized, joining a faith community, etc.). The idea of fixing everything yourself if you just work hard enough in the same ways as always is so tempting but it’s not possible. I’ve been there, and I’m so glad I’m not there anymore.
    I know these are not the easiest times to find new areas to reach out in, but certainly now more people understand perfectly well what it feels like to be alone and to feel helpless before the state of the world. I am sure that if you reach out, eventually there will be hands to reach back to you.
    Sincere best wishes from an internet stranger.

  34. irene adler*

    OP: Wish you could put your passions to work and find a job that incorporates both your IT abilities and desire to practice conservation of resources. I think you’d be amazing at that.

  35. Lilyp*

    I’ll be really blunt with you OP — as someone who works and hires in tech, soft skills like maintaining positive relationships with coworkers and handling frustrating situations with patience and grace are an incredibly important criteria. If I interviewed someone who expressed even a tenth of the level of anger, blame, and hostility that’s in this update I would take them out of the running immediately. I don’t know if you’re in a place to hear this or not, but it might help your job search if you took a hard look at your attitude, how you work with others, and how that comes across in your application materials and how you interview.

    1. Lilyp*

      On a less practical note, this letter reminds me of a captain awkward classic:

      The advice there isn’t for the environmentalist husband, but maybe reading it will help you see that trying to save the planet by controlling other people’s day-to-day behaviors (a) is ineffective and (b) can be used as an excuse to control and berate and feel superior to the people around you in a way that’s really toxic and isn’t really about the environment at all. What if you took your passion for the environment and cleaned some beaches or volunteered at a garden or did another independent action that’s not based around controlling other’s behavior?

    2. SierraSkiing*

      When job searching, OP should work with someone they trust on a scripted answer to “so, why are you looking for a new job?” and practice calmly saying something like “While I’ve appreciated the experience I’ve built at the Brown Teapot Company, my salary is now below market rate for my experience and skills. In addition, my company has little room for in-house growth in my position. I’m looking for someplace where I can grow as a [Name of Position] and work on projects like [something in job description you’re excited about].” Keep it calm, and don’t say anything else about what frustrated you at the current company- the odds of your anger seeping through are too high. (And maybe prep safe answers to a few other common questions that might set off a rant, like “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker”.)

    3. jeepers*

      I’m so in agreement with this. I work in the tech consulting field, and there’s a talent gap. There are jobs all over the country right now, even with COVID.

      When you’re hiring someone or bringing on a consulting team, you really can’t afford a person who has so much anger. What happens if someone needs to give you critical feedback? Things go wrong all the time, you have to know how to problem-solve without alienating everyone around you.

      OP – please learn how to deal with your anger and frustration. People pick up on that. That is going to be the first and most important step. After that, then it’s time to deal with your resume and cover letter, but that all comes later.

      1. Sarah*

        To be fair, the tech talent gap is not so much a lack of tech workers as an unwillingness to train people who have work with one language in another language. Or at least it’s a factor. It is hard to find a job even in tech right now. I know someone who previously was able to interview for 3 positions and get an offer before who had to apply for literally 100 this time. Might depend on the region. That said, this is just since covid. If you applied for 50 positions pre-covid and didn’t get a single offer, that’s probably a sign you’re doing something wrong.

    4. R2D2*

      Well said. People will forgive mistakes, and even mild incompetence, if you are kind and communicate well. If you are excellent at your job but exude tension and hostility, people will avoid you and it will hurt your reputation and career.

  36. Treebeardette*

    LW, you really need to move past this. If you are still stuck with recycling and the anxiety at work, it may be good to get a therapist. A therapist can help you see the situation in a more realistic way. Despite what you think, most people aren’t thinking about you and the trash. They probably don’t care if you use the kitchen. Kitchens are like bathrooms, it’s human nature to use them to help you live.

  37. Vox Experientia*

    doesn’t look like the OP has taken AMs advice on this at all. op, seriously, chill. your entire company could ignore recycling for 100 years and it wouldn’t make enough difference to justify your level of rage about this. deep breaths. and find another job – you clearly are filled with rage and hate for your current one. carrying around that much anger isn’t good for you – trust me. move to a cheaper place to live. you can make a good living in most decent sized cities in IT – working at a place that shares your values (or zealotry?)

  38. hbc*

    OP, what I see consistently through this letter and the last is the tendency to see the impact of other people’s actions and assume the worst intentions from them, and see the intention behind your actions and using that to justify whatever impact they have. I mean, you were pulling trash (recycling and compostable materials are still trash) out of the bin and leaving it exposed in a shared kitchen facility, while simultaneously complaining about dirty dishes being left out. Whoever went to HR about this was not some pot-stirrer looking to generate drama–they wanted to be able to open the compost bin without having to deal with rotting food sitting on top. You don’t need to walk on eggshells around people, you just need to not dig eggshells out of the trash and put them out for other people to deal with.

    I don’t doubt that there are things about your workplace that are objectively awful, but I *do* doubt that you’re seeing the situation clearly. I think if you focus on what you have control over (hanging up on the annoying IT sales/support person, getting back into the kitchen and following the rules there, walking through the office without playing hide and seek with HR), the time there will feel less burdensome *and* you’re more likely to find something better.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      THANK YOU! This was a really important point to make. I first heard the concept of somebody who thinks of other people’s actions in terms of their impact and their own in terms of their intentions in listening to an expert on domestic abuse talk about the way abusers tend to think. It’s not okay. Aside from the simple injustice of the double standard, intent can be used to justify literally any behavior. Someone who allows themself the blanket free pardon of judging their own actions by their intent, but will not be so kind to anyone else, is very likely to treat others extremely poorly, because there’s no curb on their own behavior and no charity about anyone else’s.

    2. Fishhead*

      Putting this in logistical terms also raises another possibility:

      I like recycling, but I dislike disgusting day-old garbage more. If I had to negotiate yesterday’s garbage on the lid, I’d just throw everything in the trash. I suspect many people would.

      So it may not have been people out to get OP, just people who don’t like touching garbage. And OP’s militancy may have inadvertently made the problem *worse*.

  39. Katefish*

    This might be too far afield, but, in addition to everyone’s helpful general comments – I’ve struggled the most financially living in medium cost of living cities in which most of the jobs paid poorly. The ideal thing is to live somewhere where there’s parity, or better, between the cost of living and pay. As an example, I once prepared taxes in a city where the average person made $32K/year, but the average cost of living was $50K/year. It was a beautiful area, but I left quickly! Currently in a notoriously high cost of living area, but jobs in my field also pay well, which is much better. Good luck to you LW.

  40. Ellie May*

    There were two things that stood out to me in the original letter … 12 (12!) paragraphs about the offense of not recycling and 1 paragraph about being paid less than 99% of the marketplace in this field. This imbalance was striking (and YES, I am an avid recycler!!!).
    And … LW doesn’t know who the offender is but states it is the person that is leaving dishes in the sink. How is this conclusion drawn exactly?
    In the update, LW seems still very overly invested in this drama and feeling persecuted by HR and exploited by the company overall. Unfortunately a lot of anger and frustration coming through. Perhaps time to step-up the job search and look for a geography with fewer software developers? I wouldn’t want to go to work each day with such negative feelings about my employer and co-workers.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s often an issue to hyper-focus on the minor transgressions when deeper things are happening within. Which is what this feels like.

      So my conclusion drawn is it’s so much more than the recycling but the recycling is what’s spinning around in their mind. “But the recycling. But it’s the law. But the recycling.”

      I did this years ago, I was spinning on the fact that someone had suggested I tweak my outfit slightly. And I was just like “You’re judgemental and awful how dare you ever say that the blue leggings would look better with this skirt than the black leggings!” Seriously. It was something that small that caused a spiral. Because it just…stuck.

  41. Koala dreams*

    I’m glad that you took the advice and stopped looking through the trash. I’m sad to hear that you still are angry at the HR person even though they are kind to you despite your previous actions. If you are under-paid at your current job, make sure to look for a better paid job locally too, and don’t only consider cost of living. With a higher, market rate pay, you might be able to save up some money for moving later if that’s what you want.

    Thanks for the update!

  42. FinancialChick*

    This is my first time commenting, so hello to all. I wanted too chime in because I’m sympathetic to LW’s environmental stance and would probably have reported this company for failure to comply with the local ordinance as well.

    I was reading these two articles in The Guardian just before coming here:
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/18/world-has-six-months-to-avert-climate-crisis-says-energy-expert https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/18/climate-change-air-pollution-investigation-study

    The local ordinance requiring businesses to recycle and compost is a law LW’s company is failing, willfully based on their HR’s reaction, to comply with. It concerns me to perceive a company breaking local law being brushed off when Alison is usually amazing at emphasizing that companies do need to comply with the law. It’s also disappointing to me to see this framed in some of the comments as LW being too invested in a personal cause because of their report to local authorities about this law being broken. Both of these things especially bother me in the current moment because of the known connections between environmental justice and racial justice. In my opinion we should be supporting workers who report their companies for violating any law, and their rights to do so.

    LW, good luck in finding a better, more contentious employer. For what it’s worth I hope your report results in action from your local authorities.

    1. Crop Tiger*

      I don’t know. The company clearly has a recycling program in that they have trash, recycle and compost bins. When a problem was brought to their attention, they had (was it, I don’t remember) three meetings to try to correct the problem. They can’t hold a gun to people’s heads to force them to recycle correctly. Maybe they have to hire someone after hours to sort the bins. Maybe they already have. If I were the company I’d have consulted the city and/or a lawyer.

    2. Pop*

      I do not mean to speak for anyone but myself. But, as a light-skinned person of color who makes Bernie look like a centrist, I think that the connection between “calling your authorities (ie, someone in a position of power) when one of your coworkers isn’t recycling” and “this is racial justice” is tenuous at best. Yes, I fully support environmental activism and take many steps in my own life to reduce impact on the environment. But fixating on something like this – clearly to the detriment of the OP’s mental health – is not it.

      1. Crop Tiger*

        That wording worried me myself. There’s a vast difference between “my coworker doesn’t put his pop can in the correct bin” and “racial justice”. It sounds like the company is following the law, and there’s no indication that this is racially based (but there were hundreds of comments so I could have missed it, please correct me if so) and any racial issues which should 1000% be reported.

    3. Colette*

      I’ve never seen a recycling bin in public that only had recyclables in it, so I doubt that the law requires the company to verify the contents of the various bins. It likely requires that they make them available, but not much more. People are really bad at getting the right stuff in the right bin, and a lot of stuff people think they are recycling doesn’t end up being recycled in the end.

      But in general, reporting your employer to the government for violations doesn’t usually end well for you. (Sometimes it’s worth it, of course! But this isn’t one of those times.)

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve always been sympathetic towards the OP in terms of their cause. I too believe it’s grotesque that the company is willingly just ignoring the law, I’m glad that it was reported!

      However, the thing is, that’s all you can do here. Is report it and when the law then turns a blind eye because that’s what they do often when requested to actually enforce a law like this, you can’t just keep grinding gears and spinning out mentally. It’s in the OP’s best interest to let it go at some point.

      The connection here is really simply that laws are often bullshit and unenforced, unless they have a personal reason to do so. Sadly it seems like there are very few environmentally conscious law enforcement.

      Our cops don’t even care about property crime or people pooping in other people’s driveway [seriously], you think they’re going to care about recycling?

    5. Kella*

      I think what you’re seeing in the comments is not a reaction to the validity of the cause but that OP seems to have some underlying source of stress or anxiety and is fixating on the recycling issue rather than addressing that underlying problem.

      It’s also important to recognize that OP’s campaign to pull out their coworkers unsorted trash was extremely ineffective in its goal to improve recycling culture. OP *stopped* putting it in the correct bins and instead just put it on top of the bins without communicating to anyone why they were doing that. Understandably, people saw piles of trash being left out and threw it away again. So, no progress was made on recycling culture and OP *wasn’t* actually improving the likelihood of the trash going in the correct bin at all. And yet they did this for a full year and a half.

      From an activism perspective, spending a year and a half on an totally ineffective tactic is a huge waste of resources and energy. Perhaps reporting the company will create some positive change but it’s definitely not helping OP’s mental state over the situation at all, which has been the main focus of the comment section.

    6. ATM*

      But is the company actually breaking the law? Or does OP just perceive it as such because they’re not going militantly after anyone who doesnt recycle? They have the bins out, after all.

  43. Batgirl*

    OP, I believe you if you say this is the most miserable job in existence and everyone is a bona fide jerk – but there is no ongoing vendetta against you. No one is invested in hating you, based on what you describe. There was one disagreement and HR settled it to their satisfaction. While that sucked for you in the moment, the key word is ‘settled’ which means that it’s over!
    You clearly have a lot of other things to do, so please hear me when I can tell you that one chore you can stop doing is the eggshell creeping. It’s only going to sap your energy, which you need for finding a happier fit.

    1. Office Gumby*

      You also talked about HR person’s repeated attempts to talk friendly to you…
      ..and you’re not letting her. You’re rejecting her overtures of treating you like a human being. That’s not an admirable quality in you.

      I honestly don’t think that the problem lies with HR, and they’re certainly not out to get you. Really.
      Stop trying to make everyone the worst evil since the Fuhrer to justify the rage you feel towards their lack of recycling. It’s tainting your soul and very likely contributing to your inability to get a new job and cutting away at people’s ability to respect you.

      But yes, I agree with so many, many others here. You do need to get out. You need a new job, if not an entirely new career. Maybe a new town. But when you do get out, please don’t take this toxicity with you. Leave it behind. Your new work place will appreciate you doing that. They will NOT like it if you bring it along.

  44. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is truly a painful update to read because the letter writer is clearly in so much pain. I’m sorry that you’re struggling.

    I don’t agree with just about anything you’ve said but I can feel the emotions dripping from the words and I can’t bring myself to correct any of it constructively. I hope you find peace and somewhere you feel safe, this is a miserable situation to be in. Nobody should feel this way.

    1. voyager1*

      Your second paragraph really nailed it. My first thought when I read the HR person was being friendly was it is clear to everyone how the LW is feeling. The HR person is trying to do a kind thing to the LW.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        As HR myself, I took it as a virtual gut-punch to see the “HR is not your friends”

        No we’re not friends…but we’re not your enemy either. We’re not coaching or correcting you because we’re being assholes, we’re tasked with keeping people following the same set of rules and expectations.

        Just like parking enforcement, we’re easily demonized because we’re the “fun busters” and tell you that you can’t do whatever you want.

        We don’t usually grind axes. I say “Hey you have to stop doing that, this isn’t acceptable.” and it’s over. As long as you of course, change your actions. I’m not suddenly looking at you to pop you twice, I’m not here to stack violations against you or something. It’s not personal!

  45. It’s all good*

    I has an IT job. I was told I was going to be laid off and rehired as consultant. I got a 40% raise and only worked 4 hours a week. It has to do with reducing Salaries and reclassifying me as an Expense. It could be OP’s company has a bigger budget for Expenses vs salaries.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is great but do you have a contract of some kind in place?
      By moving you to an “expense” instead of salaried/employment setup, you have lost a lot of protections. Including that they can fire you and you aren’t now eligible for unemployment, since you’re now self-employed. Same with if you get hurt at the job, that’s not a workers comp claim, that’s on you to carry all your own insurances.

      The money side seems better but your personal expenses should be adjusted to have all the insurance you’ll need.

      I don’t ever suggest going to a consultant side unless you’re actively working with multiple places at once, then you’re protected from being one company’s worker.

  46. Hiya*

    The Seattle area is desperate for good tech people and way more affordable than the Bay Area. Most offer relocation help. Good luck

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I was going to mention this as well. We ended up here because of the tech jobs fishing our friends out of the water. We’re not in tech ourselves.

      Seattle area is hungry for all kinds of workers and skillsets tbh. I’ll just say that.

      It’s easier here to live on the outskirts and drive in too, just saying. I’ve never physically lived within the city of Seattle =X

    2. emmelemm*

      *Way* more affordable is a bit of a stretch. Possibly more affordable is perhaps true.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        No. It is way more affordable. There’s no stretching. Knowing what my bay area friends have been charged and the shittiness they deal with rent wise, I can say without blinking twice that they are astronomically higher than Seattle.

        Yes. Even with our ridiculous car tab costs.

        Let’s also remember that we don’t have an income tax.

  47. Akcipitrokulo*

    I am so sorry you are so stressed and afraid. I’ve had similar fears before at work and it sucks.

    I know this is a head vs heart thing, and logic doesn’t always help, but if you can find a moment to think through some aspects it may help you.

    First, the HR rep.

    They do not out to get you, and are not interested in prolonging the bin issue. Their friendly overtures are their pretty clear statement that the past is the past and all is ok.

    It’s ok to take that at face value and relax. Replying with a smile and comment about weather, or tv, or whatever may feel forced at first, but it’s ok – it will pass – and it will soon be a habit to have pleasant, small talk interactions without the fear.

    The same is true of the kitchen. It is worth bearing in mind that *YOU* are, and always have been, welcome. Your actions were not welcome. You are not your actions.

    It might help, if you are able, to bring in some treats for an occasion and leave them in kitchen; this may help reframe the kitchen as “the place where people think of me as person who brought nommie things”.

    Being afraid of people and interactions can be crippling. It’s why I was in my 20s before I started uni, lost me a couple of jobs and why I didn’t finish my degree. I really feel for what you’re going through and hope it gets better.

    People do not hate you. And mostly, they have short memories for the stuff that still seems so big in your mind.

    You might find it helpful to chat to someone about it to help get in perspective.

  48. Jaybeetee*

    LW, I sympathize with how you feel. I’m sure there are a lot of problems with your job,I know what it’s like to be paid below market rate and to be desperate to get out of a job but not having any nibbles. It’s an awful place to be.

    You do have choices.

    You can choose to make idle chitchat with the HR person or other colleagues. You can choose to get the IT guy off the phone faster. You can choose to recast your colleagues regular people doing their jobs, and not out to get you. You can choose to use the kitchen. You can choose to drive Uber or pick up a side hustle that will help your finances. You can choose to speak to a counsellor about your feelings, if for no other reason than to vent. You still have choices that can improve your situation.

    It feels hopeless right now, but it isn’t. There are ways to make this better that have nothing to do with what HR or IT or your boss or colleagues or the job market does it doesn’t do.

  49. CleverGirl*

    Software Engineering is very, very different from IT, both in job responsibilities and pay, and the OP mentions both, and then complains about being underpaid. I’m wondering if the OP’s official job is IT-something, but OP is either doing more Software Engineering work, wishes they were, or has a misunderstanding about the differences in jobs and corresponding pay levels.

    It’s also very difficult to figure out which of the many issues the OP brings up are actual issues and which are being exaggerated due to the unbridled rage at the company that is coming through in this letter. Is the OP *really* getting paid *minimum wage* for a Software Engineering job, or just slightly lower than they think they should be getting paid? I feel like this level of anger at their current employer and coworkers is what is preventing OP from finding a new job. If this is coming across in interviews AT ALL, it’s going to be a huge red flag for potential employers. If I interviewed someone and they seemed this angry at their current job and everyone they worked with (including the contractor!), I would throw that resume in the trash as soon as the interview ended.

    1. I Heart JavaScript*

      I’m honestly wondering this too. Software Engineers are doing just fine in the Bay Area, even with COVID (though to be fair, most of the IT people I know are too, considering how many companies desperately need help setting up and maintaining WFH arrangements).

      When I see these kind of posts about software jobs in the Bay, I get super confused because it’s so contrary to my experience and everyone else I know (and most of us did boot camps, not college degrees in CS).

      I’m kind of wondering also if the OP did one of the predatory boot camps that don’t teach as much and so they’ve gotten stuck in some weird part of the industry where employers pay like crap because they’re willing to hire people who’ve been largely left behind by their peers. I don’t know anyone well who’s ended up in that spot, but you hear stories about some of the more unscrupulous schools.

    2. lasslisa*

      LW just has so much DISDAIN for their fellows. The contractors are ruining their work. Other people’s changes are “sabotage”. I’ve known other people – mostly young and junior techies – with that same sense that, hey, no one else knows how to do things and everyone else is cutting corners and I’m the only one doing it right.

      It’s a huge red flag. It means “I waste my time on things that management doesn’t care about” and “I care more about perfection (by a metric that doesn’t matter to my employer) than about doing the job they hired me for” and “I can’t take direction”. It means “I will undermine corporate projects by deciding I know better than the people who are paying me to implement their decisions.”

      At the end of the day you are exchanging your labor for dollars. If they take all your work and throw it out, of course it’s demoralizing, but you still got paid. The work was theirs to do what they wanted with. If you start trying to deliver what they value and are paying you for – instead of trying to deliver Art or perfect code or a maximally efficient network diagram – you will find better success.

  50. Employment Lawyer*

    I will note that the combination of “my company is still severely underpaying me”, “I can’t find work anywhere else,” and “none of the…companies… that I’ve applied at have responded to my applications” is–perhaps–an opportunity to talk to a career counselor or personal coach, about how to change those things. Might be worth a shot.

  51. cheeky*

    I feel like this is more a reflection of the letter writer and their attitudes than the job, honestly. I live in the Bay Area, there are tech jobs here, even with the job contractions. I can’t understand staying in job where you’re miserable and underpaid; there are ALWAYS other options if you have job skills.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Well, not necessarily if you come across as a seething ball of rage and obsession to anyone who interviews you (or possibly even reads your cover letter). We don’t know how much of their current feelings-storm LW is putting out there during their job search, but I’d bet it’s more than they think they are, *at least* if they’ve ever gotten to the point of having a personal interview (including by video) with anyone. And maybe even if they haven’t yet.

    2. Bonky*

      I work for a hardware and software company, and I hire people here. If OP’s tendency to disproportionate responses, paranoia, aggression and somewhat queasy sense of self-righteousness are rippling so visibly off these two letters, I’m sure they’re also evident at interview (and possibly in cover letters). And is OP also bringing these qualities to their social media activity? We do check social media; it’s often a good insight for whether someone’s going to be a good fit with the rest of the team.

      All of this is going to be an immediate show-stopper. We don’t just look for hard skills in our technical hires; you’ve got to be able to demonstrate that you have enough in the way of soft skills to work with our excellent team without making their lives harder: you need to be able to take direction, you need to be able to respond to criticism, you need to be collegiate.

      I feel very sorry for OP, who is clearly in a very bad place. But it’s hard to read this stuff with a maximum of sympathy when it’s clear that OP is so set on blaming everybody around her for her problems, and refusing to look outside the building or inside her own head to find help for them.

  52. Tobias Funke*

    LW, when I was in the absolute most hopeless spot in my life, I sent out about five million cover letters and resumes and bombed a bunch of interviews. Was it because I was terrible at my work and unemployable? Nope! Was it because I was trapped in an abusive relationship and not allowed to leave the house and had to sneak out for interviews, which were the only contacts I had with people who were not my abuser? Yup! I came off completely bananas in all of those interviews and never did end up getting a job through any of those applications. I ended up working for, and then with an old classmate. Unfathomable amounts of stress like you are under can cause us to completely lose perspective. You deserve to get some support – do you qualify for MediCal/do you have other insurance or an EAP? A therapist would be a great place to take some of this to help you sort through it. Best wishes, LW.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, OP, there is not one aspect of your life that is not giving you stress.
      If all your cohorts started recycling properly tomorrow you would STILL be under massive stress.
      Your stress has nothing to do with recycling.

  53. Catabodua*

    I hope he’s able to address his anxiety and mental health issues and get to a better place , both in work and in his personal life.

  54. Naomi*

    OP, it sounds like there are lots of real problems at your job and that’s coloring your attitude to everything else, and you’re channeling your frustration about things you feel powerless to change into fixing THIS ONE THING DAMMIT. But if everyone at your company started recycling perfectly tomorrow… you’d still be underpaid and unhappy in your job. It would be nice if they recycled, but it’s not the real problem here.

    When Alison said to let it go, she didn’t just mean to stop re-sorting the trash–that’s just the first step. You also need to let it go emotionally, because even though you stopped digging through the trash, you’re still stewing in resentment about it. And it’s poisoning your relationships with co-workers. For example, I’d guess the HR person is thinking something like “Boy, that was awkward when we had to talk to OP about the recycling. I’ll go have a nice conversation with him to signal that the issue is closed and we’re not holding it against him.” Similarly, are your coworkers behaving like you’re unwelcome in the kitchen, or are you ascribing that attitude to them because you haven’t gotten over the Great Recycling Incident and assume it’s on everyone else’s mind too? It sounds like you got really intense about the recycling; I don’t think reporting you for that is a sign that your coworkers are looking for any little excuse to dob you in to HR.

    You may not be able to get a new job right away, but I think if you stop suspecting everyone else of being out to get you, it will improve your quality of life at this one.

    1. Autistic Farm Girl*

      The thing is that the vast majority of OP’s coworkers probably forgot about the GRI as soon as OP stopped taking trash out and leaving it on top of the bin.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “Boy, that was awkward when we had to talk to OP about the recycling. I’ll go have a nice conversation with him to signal that the issue is closed and we’re not holding it against him.”

      Part of what we are compensated for is our willingness to get along with others, OP. HR is showing you that she is willing to get along with you.
      The problem with choosing to avoid talking to people is that it sends a message, “I am not willing to get along with others.” Yeah, OP, people get shown the exit door for their lack of willingness to get along with others.

  55. Rachael*

    This letter strikes me on both fronts. The OP certainly cares alot about the environment. However, she is letting the actions of others affect her life. This may be something that needs to be addressed in order to lower her own anxiety. There will always be people who throw away that glass container. Yes, as someone living in Seattle, when I go to a part of the country that does not recycle it is hard to explain the pain in my chest I get when I have to throw away plastic or glass in the regular garbage. Seems like I am killing the earth, LOL. For the people who feel victimized…if someone in my office was doing this I would just roll my eyes. It’s not like she is going to the person’s personal desk and sorting the garbage. She is just doing it in the breakroom. Certainly no need to go to HR. Just ignore it. I think that everyone needs to examine their motives and how they react to when someone does something they don’t agree with.

    1. Colette*

      If she was taking stuff out of the trash and putting it in the correct bin, that would be weird but OK – but she was taking stuff out of the trash and leaving it on the correct bin – i.e. you’d walk into the kitchen and there would be trash in places it shouldn’t be. I’d guess someone when tot HR because they didn’t know how to address it with her.

      1. Rachael*

        Ahhhh….I missed that part. Then, yes…..I would be a bit irritated if this happened to me. Thanks for the clarification.

  56. Autistic Farm Girl*

    I feel completely stupid asking that but anyway:

    I understand that OP said that she couldn’t afford to move because she isn’t paid well enough to save and go somewhere else.
    But why can she not find a better paying job in the area where she is?

    If you’re already there you don’t need to save money to go somewhere else. Or maybe i completely misunderstood this whole thing, in which case I apologise (it’s been a long day and my brain is fried).

    Also, as others have said: it’s never too late to change career, there are many careers that involve the environment and protecting it.

    1. that's just me*

      Unfortunately even moving to a cheaper place is usually expensive. You’ll need at three months rent saved up in order to pay first, last, & deposit on a new place. You might be locked in a lease in your current location, meaning you’ll have to pay to break it or stay put until it ends. And even though you might have paid a giant deposit on your current lease, my experience with bay area landlords is that they WILL find a way to keep some/all of your deposit, even if you left the apartment in better condition that you found it. Plus there’s the cost of packing, shipping or hauling all your stuff to the new city, registering your car if you’re moving to a new state….Without money saved up to GTFO, life in a place like the bay can become pretty hand-to-mouth, pretty fast.
      However, I agree with the general consensus that the LW seems desperately miserable and would for sure benefit from making major changes to the inside and outside parts of their life ASAP. Moving, finding a new job, or going to therapy might seem impossible (I’ve been there), but the consequences of continuing the status quo when it’s this toxic can be much worse than the risk of trying something different.

    2. that's just me*

      Oh I forgot to say that I don’t think you should feel stupid at all! Those are great questions!

  57. Georgina Fredrika*

    I hope the next update isn’t as depressing :(

    The whole thing about “i’ve considered your advice about switching jobs etc. but I can’t” yeah… I’ve known people like that and they were both miserable and incorrect about their options. Obviously your situation might be harder but the solution isn’t “be miserable for the rest of your life getting underpaid at this job.” Other people have figured it out, you can too.

  58. QCI*

    This is like when an adventurer finds a journal and it ends up being the story of the owner slowly spiraling into madness.

  59. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Hey, OP.

    Lots and lots of advice, some of which isn’t helpful, all of which is draining. Money is so scary right now that you can’t face it, even though it’s your biggest problem. Money is always scary.

    When was the last time you took a sick day? Or two? or three? Mental health is just as important a reason to take sick time, and your stupid employer doesn’t need to know any more than, “I’m sick.”

    I just wrote a huge paragraph about “do what you want to do”, but let’s just leave it at that. Give yourself a two or three day PTO break, the hell with what may await you when you return. Do YOU, and see where it leads.

  60. MAB*

    OP, I really think you should seek out therapy. It seems really exhausting for you to navigate your feelings and reactions to the behaviors of others, and it appears to be detrimental to your work life and probably your personal life as well. You should seek out help.

  61. Spek*

    If finding a new job is as problematic as you describe, you may want to avoid all this negativity at your current job. T

  62. raincoaster*

    Something tells me it’s not the SF labour market for tech that’s necessarily the problem here.

    1. Courageous cat*

      Yeah, now that I saw the update comment LW left on the last post, yowza. There’s a lot going on underneath the obvious surface aspects of this (needs better pay, needs different company) – I suspect OP may find similar issues anywhere if they don’t work from within.

      Also reminds me of that AA prayer thing, about working to accept the things you cannot control or whatever.

  63. DuskPunkZebra*

    LW, friend, you need a new job. Last year. Therapy, too, probably, but to get out of this place where you’re painfully underpaid and that you have such a toxic attitude toward.

    Literally anything would be better right now, and while retail may suck, Target’s starting wage just officially went to $15, and you can look for other work while you’re doing that. (Heck, I can personally state that Target’s customer service departments are understaffed – told me that checking up on a recent issue I had – so they might have some remote work there!)

    But you need a hefty dose of perspective and distance from this sinking ship.

    As other commenters have said, if you’re expressing your feelings about your current company in interviews even vaguely like you’re expressing them here, you’re probably standing in your own way. This kind of anger and mistrust are red flags. You don’t need to mention any of this at all, purely that your market research shows you’re being grossly underpaid and are looking for something closer to market rates. That’s it.

    If you can’t find something in your field quickly, then take something you CAN get and then keep looking. And consider moving. There are many places with good tech markets that have nowhere near the cost of living of the Bay Area.

  64. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    It is terrible to feel trapped – to feel like you are powerless to change anything, and that every avenue of escape is closed off. OP, as you work to change jobs, one thing that might help is to remind yourself of where you do have power. It’s hokey, but it can help just to recognize that you are always making choices. I don’t mean that you necessarily have GOOD choices – it can be the choice between get up and go to this job you don’t like or quit working and lose your home. But even just reminding yourself that you are choosing to go to work each day can help. Remind yourself that you can choose how you react to your HR rep’s attempts at small talk, that you can choose whether to fix the consultant’s mistakes or not… Remind yourself that you have power and agency too, and you are not just life’s chew toy.

  65. TiredMama*

    Apologies if you explained this, but is moving not an option? This sounds miserable and life is short.

  66. Absurda*

    OP, it really sounds like you’re taking all of this far too personally. The meeting with HR was not a personal attack against you and I doubt they harbor any animosity toward you for it. If your manager finds an problem/error in your work and asks you to correct it, how do you react? Do you take that as a personal judgement on you, your work, your character, etc or just a routine interaction?

    If you consider every correction, piece of advice or constructive criticism as a personal affront to carry a grudge over, it will hold you back in your career. It will prevent your ability to grow and develop new skills and, ultimately, become a more valuable employee who can demand and get higher pay.

    Have you asked about a raise and what it would take to get one? Sadly some companies are just cheap and don’t know how to retain employees. That’s not personal, they’re just crap companies without any long term vision. With companies like that, I say milk them for all the experience, new skills and development you can then take your more valuable self to a new company. But, as I said, carrying a grudge against your current employer or co-workers will prevent you from doing this.

    As a side note: if your employer offers any sort of training programs or tuition reimbursement program, it might be worth taking advantage of them if you can. This could help you become a more marketable and competitive job applicant, though I know it won’t be easy and may leave you with this company longer than you might like.

    Lastly, you say your employer goes out of their way to sabotage your work. This would be counterproductive from a business perspective. Are you sure you’re on the same page as your manager/coworkers about work needs to be done and how? Is the company trying to move in a new direction and you haven’t pivoted? I know it’s hard when your emotions are as engaged as they are, but you might consider having a conversation with your manager as dispassionately as possible about what’s happening there. Be prepared with one or two examples where you think your work was compromised (please don’t use the word sabotaged) and ask what’s going on there. Please just listen to what your manager says and don’t take it as a personal judgement on you.

    At any rate, good luck on your job search, hopefully you can find a new place and you will, sometime in the future, be able to put this place and your experiences into some perspective.

  67. KR*

    OP, I’m not saying this lightly and I’m know People On The Internet like to recommend therapy for every little thing. But I was having a lot of anxiety around the environment a year or so ago. I would get panicky doing the dishes thinking about the water waste, overly invested in recycling and making sure things got in the recycling even if I wasn’t the one throwing them away. I didn’t want to throw anything away if I couldn’t find a way to recycle it and ended up with trash piling up in my car. Therapy helped me realize my anxiety was fixating on environmental issues and helped me learn how to talk myself down from the eco-panic. It helped me learn how to sooth myself when I saw people needlessly idling their engines and refusing to recycle and wasting water, and it helped me remember in the moment that I can’t other people’s actions and deal with the fact that even if I tried my absolute best I can’t fix the environment. It might be helped for you if you can get into an affordable provider

    It you can find any work for a company focused on recycling or renewables or environmental issues, I’ve found it’s so helpful for my anxiety and well being to know I’m helping save the planet every day I’m at work. It makes it not so anxiety inducing when you meet people who just don’t care.

  68. Lorac*

    Going to be blunt. I’m in the Bay and yes, the tech labor market isn’t what it was 5-10 years ago.

    What that means is that there are enough talented candidates here that hiring managers can afford to be picky. And the first thing they do is weed out candidates who have major interpersonal issues and will have difficulties getting along with others.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I bet word travels fast too. My older son worked there in 2014-15. He barely even talked to anyone and still managed to build a network that he is still able to use. Between that and a group of former friends who used to live there, my impression is that it’s a very small world. And, I’m sorry, OP, but the garbage war sounds ridiculous, as does the fact that you still have not acknowledged that you’ve done anything wrong in waging it. Rummaging through trash and setting items out on top of the lid to shame whomever put them in there, every day, for a year, is… not something I’ve seen anyone do in any workplace. And I have worked with some really peculiar-acting people. The HR wasn’t “out to get you”, they just wanted you to stop doing it with the trash.

  69. Captain Stubing is my spirit animal*

    Your letters seem speak to me of the frustration borne from the conflict of the job you are trying to do/want to do/want to have, and the job you actually have. And you seem to feel like you cannot directly address some important issues.

    1. Talk with HR about your salary and ask to be brought up to market rate. You say they are “severely underpaying me, exploiting me as extremely cheap labor” There is no harm in addressing this with HR, and even if it was only a raise for 3 months before you moved to a new job — you work for this money. It is not your role to shoulder their burden of payroll. There are several scripts on this site – read all of them.
    2. Ask your manager to create a protocol on how s/he wants you to handle working with the outsourced IT guy (when can you engage with the outsourced IT guy – what circumstances, does your manager want you to get her email okay before you involve IT or approve the # of IT hours) how should you engage with IT guy – email the issue before calling? (and if you do call the moment the upselling starts, shut it down (Let me stop you there Wakeem, I can’t approve any spend)

  70. Chronic Overthinker*

    Oh this poor LW. They made an issue over trash, and then that issue bled it into every little thing that is happening in their job. You sound stressed and over-worked and definitely seem like you feel under-valued. These are the real issues at hand and need to be addressed. I hope you either make peace with the job you have; which might require asking for a raise or showing your team how valuable your time really is, or find a job more suited to your talents. No one deserves to be in a toxic work environment, but it could be that you are creating said environment with your negative behaviors. Address your issues first and if you can’t, you may need to find another job. I wish you luck.

  71. Archduke Frydinand*

    …you know how we got rid of comments that just complain and don’t want anyone to offer solutions?

    Yeah…Maybe let’s do it for letters too.

    I love updates, but this is getting filed in the Highly Unreasonable category

  72. Analyst Editor*

    With all due respect to the letter-writer, but is it possible that his problems finding a different position are less to do with his blue-collar status or the tech industry, and more to do with is own attitude and self-presentation? I wonder if we would get a very different picture of the IT altercations, for example, if we asked someone else at that company.
    Going so far as to file a complaint with local government is mean-spirited, and the letter has a tone of resentment throughout that – if it translates in job applications or interviews – would be a turn-off.
    However, I hope things work out for him, because sometimes circumstances just suck for years until something breaks and things improve, as we hear from a lot of updates here.

    1. HR Exec Popping In*

      I agree. Generally when someone is this bitter, it bleeds into the rest of their life and how they present themselves. And reporting the company for this was really beyond normal. As an aside, the HR person is trying to be nice. They don’t need to do that. They deal far worse things than a complaint about trash cans.
      I hope the letter-writer is able to let this go. They really need to if they are going to stay working at this company or if they want to successfully find another job elsewhere.

  73. I edit everything*

    Instead of an office full of bees, this sounds like an office with one bee, which everyone is watching out of the corners of their eyes, wondering where it’s going to land next and if it will sting them, and generally getting annoyed by the constant buzzing.

  74. Hiring Mgr*

    I know this is about the recycling, but as an aside I don’t understand how a Bay area software engineer is making barely above minimum wage… There HAVE to be better jobs than this – OP should be making six figures easily

      1. I Heart JavaScript*

        Honestly, IT in the Bay does pretty well too. Even (especially!) tech companies need IT support. Just because I’m good with UI (or databases, or deployment infrastructure or building APIs) doesn’t mean I know a damned thing about Microsoft Azure or LDAP administration. They’re specialists in their own right and can handle those things far better and more efficiently than I can.

  75. Rectilinear Propagation*

    I’m going to disagree with some of the previous commentors and say that even though LW was and is still out of line about the trash (they shouldn’t have been doing it, the co-worker who complained was not obligated to discuss it with them first, HR wasn’t out of line to talk to them, etc.), that doesn’t mean that they’re unreasonable to be upset about the rest of their job situation.

    It’s perfectly reasonable for them to be upset about being overworked and underpaid. This in particular:
    “…out of necessity, since he has monopolized control of everything on our office network…”, is ridiculous. You should not have to call someone to access a tool/system/etc. you need to do your job on a regular basis. You certainly shouldn’t have to deal with constant sales pitches every time either. Not being able to get/use the resources you need to do your job is frustrating. Also, if it really is the consultant causing the problems in the first place that lead to these calls where they have to listen to an ad before the consultant will let them into the network then I can’t really blame them for thinking the consultant is doing this on purpose.

    (I do doubt that the company is trying to sabotage the LW. I think if they wanted LW gone they’d just fire them.)

    As for, “The HR person’s frequent attempts at striking up friendly small talk with me has been really making me feel uncomfortable…”, this depends entirely on whether the HR person was striking up friendly small talk before that conversation about the trash. If the person from HR never or rarely spoke to the LW in person before that meeting, then it makes sense that they feel uncomfortable. This is likely HR keeping an eye on them and being really, really obvious about it.

    On the other hand, if they regularly had small talk before this happened then the LW should actually take this as a good sign. This means that they aren’t shunning them or treating them differently than before. In this case, LW should take this as a sign that their discussion about the trash wasn’t a big deal.

    Unfortunately, none of the scarcely few tech companies in more affordable communities outside the bay area that I’ve applied at have responded to my applications. – May I suggest that you start looking at tech jobs outside of the tech industry if you haven’t done that yet? The economy is terrible now but generally speaking, most industries have a need for some technical work. There are also job boards specifically for finding remote work.

    Speaking of, was this letter sent before the pandemic hit? I’m kind of surprised you’re still working out of the office. Is it possible for you to work from home anyway? If you can’t take any time off then maybe you can at least take a break from being in the office. That might help you stop feeling like you’re walking on eggshells.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      In fairness, I’m not sure anyone here has suggested that LW shouldn’t be upset about their pay situation, overwork, or faulty procedures – the concern is more about how LW is acting and reacting to the negative aspects of their job, then (more apparent in their comments on the previous letter) how they’re using the poor pay/treatment to justify their own not-so-good actions.

    2. Kella*

      A few folks who work in HR have commented on this post to say that if they started striking up friendly conversations with someone they had to have a serious talk with, it is almost always an indicator that they are trying to signal that they don’t have an ongoing problem with them, no hard feelings, they aren’t breathing down their neck etc. I’ve certainly done this in social contexts to help recover from past conflicts so I think it’s ungenerous to assume that HR is keeping a close eye on them.

      I also find OP’s reaction to HR concerning because it sounds like OP wasn’t written up for their actions, they were just asked to stop, and yet OP’s response is to never want to speak with HR at all and to assume HR is looking for another thing to call them out on. That response just doesn’t match what we know of what happened.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I don’t think anyone is saying they don’t have the right to be upset about their job situation if it truly is as described. What I am wondering is the following:

      1. Given the general vibe of resentment and building up of small slights into huge issues that surrounds both the letters and the OP’s comments on the last post, *is* their job situation actually as described? I will take their word that that is how they percieve it, but they also percieved a recycling issue as something worth waging a 2-year passive-aggressive office war over.
      2. Is that vibe as clear from the OP’s IRL demeanour and job applications as it is from the letters, and could that be part of the reason for their slow job search?
      3. Have they done anything to proactively change this situation other than the job search? For example, why are they letting this IT person talk their ear off on the phone rather than figuring out some scripts to firmly shut down and redirect the conversation?
      4. Why are they assuming the worst possible intentions behind their colleagues’ actions? This is related to #1 – yes, if they are truly surrounded by coworkers out to persecute them for caring about recycling and HR trying to spy on them that’s terrible, but is that actually true?

  76. Jennifer Strange*

    OP I am sorry that you are in such a bad place (physically, emotionally, and mentally). I truly hope things get better for you. But in reading your original letter, your responses in the comments of that letter, and this letter here, I can FEEL the anger seething off of my computer screen. I’m guessing that is coming across to your co-workers, bosses, and prospective employers as well (in the case of your bosses is may be warranted, but not to the others).

    Let me ask: when is the last time you have taken full responsibility for a mistake (without trying to shift at least part of the blame to someone else)? When is the last time you let someone else be right even though you “knew” you were right (and I don’t just mean externally, but also making peace with it in your own mind)? When is the last time you’ve acknowledged yourself as being a flawed person (as we all are flawed)? Because no one wants to work with someone who would rather be right ALL THE TIME. And if you’re the person who blows everything our of proportion (as you have not only with the recycling war, but with your response to the HR person who was literally just doing her job) you undermine yourself trying to fight against the things that ARE problems (like being paid so far below the market rate).

    I sincerely hope we hear a better update from you in the future.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      With respect as I agree with a lot of what you say — I don’t feel like it is just ‘anger’ dripping off the screen.

      I get the sense that from their own point of view, OP isn’t overtly feeling “aggressive” or “hostile” or anything else similar… all the while it comes off that way to the co-workers (which I guess is why HR have got involved, though they sound pretty useless to be honest). Maybe in their (OPs) mind they are the victim of a bunch of situations where the others “Aren’t Following the Rules” and that is something concrete that the OP can get them on, unlike nebulous other things which are more subjective.

      OP seems to feel that the external authority they have reported the employer to for violations of ‘environmental standards’… will enforce the rules on the “recalcitrant” others and so make them stand up to scrutiny. That’s my take on OP reporting them to the ‘authority’.

  77. Argh!*

    I have a coworker who I suspect has OCPD, which makes her really holier-than-thou about environmentalism. This sounds like the kind of thing she would do, and she would also have reported it to the city. I don’t think she’d be suspicious of others, though. Still, I know the feeling of living in a tattle-tale workplace. It’s why I much prefer to talk to people one-on-one and sort things out like adults. Where I work, we’re expected to take everyday issues to our supervisors, who will talk to their supervisors, etc. The entire workplace is full of people I used to think are phonies, but now I realize why they’re on guard.

    LW may have other issues or some kind of diagnosis that makes all this stuff more painful to bear than necessary. In my experience, if I’m currently having feelings about the current workplace it interferes with my ability to present myself well in an interview. I need to dis-engage emotionally while I’m still there in order to free myself mentally to move on. (Working from home is helping me with that this year!)

  78. angrytreespirit*

    Agree with a lot of the comments here that this is something OP needs to work on and not really an issue with the company. In your language, OP, there are a lot of classic indicators of generalized anxiety and depression. I see passive-aggressiveness, avoidance behaviors, blame-shifting, and learned helplessness, and I get the sense that you are a person who walks around every day looking for ways in which the world and everyone in it is failing you. You can’t live like that, and your behavior will isolate you from everyone else around you over time. It doesn’t matter if you are “right” about the recycling. If you’re right in the wrong way, it will make you look bad. Try to focus on how your behavior affects other people, not on how other people affect your behavior. You need to make your place at this company as secure as you can until you can find another option. You need a good reference at the very least, and you won’t do well in any interview if you come across as cranky and irritable. The work is with you, and the work needs to start now.

  79. Coverage Associate*

    I used to say that the evaluation of what waste went in what bin was harder than any legal analysis I do. Hats off to OP for taking the time to figure it out.

    My husband is awful at sorting. I was going to ask him to spend 10 minutes reading the advice from Recology, which has the waste management contract for much of the Bay Area. But they don’t even have the signs we’re familiar with from our offices online, let alone more complete information that sometimes comes out from facilities people.

    1. that's just me*

      This is a great point. Honestly, I’ve been shamed for doing recycling wrong when I was sincerely trying to do it right and just legit didn’t know X could be recycled but not Y, because it’s the opposite at home/in another state/at my old work/whatever. I would in all sincerity be terrified of the entire kitchen if I worked with someone like LW.

  80. Black Horse Dancing*

    OP, I feel for you. I understand your anxiety and paranoia, having this as well. One quick idea, be polite to your HR person but don’t engage if you don’t want to. Honestly, I think people on this blog and at your wok overreacted. All your co worker needed to do was ask you what was going on. And trash sifting really isn’t a huge deal and I have no idea why people get so upset. It’s trash–in the USA, once it’s at the curb, it’s no longer yours–as in, if someone takes something from your trash, that’s OK. In a workplace, if I saw someone going through the kitchen trash, I would politely ask if they lost something. If the co worker said they were sorting recyclables, I’d be thrilled. It may only help a little–but it helps. I wish you the best of luck. Please do look into therapy/someone to vent to, and document, document everything.

    1. that's just me*

      But they weren’t sorting it and putting it in the correct bins. They were placing garbage ATOP the bins, creating an unsanitary mess for someone else to clean.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      OP does not appear to have directly spoken with the coworker about what their issue was – their original letter states an assumption that the perpetrators know what they’re doing is wrong and just don’t care, hence their passive-aggressive sort ‘n’ show campaign – so why should their coworker strike up a conversation with them about why they’re digging through the trash every day and leaving bits of it on top of other bins? If it happens once, absolutely, I’m going to assume that someone pitched a retainer or cell phone and offer to help. If they’re digging in every day and leaving piles on bins? I’m staying out of that because it’s not normal behavior, and I have a general policy of not getting involved in anyone else’s crazy.

  81. Black Horse Dancing*

    Reading the original letter, your co worker who complained was really, really weird/off. I don’t blame you for being annoyed with HR–this is something so minor, I am surprised HR simply didn’t ask you kindly about it (or your manager) and simply say “Please don’t do this any more.” They should also be talking to your co worker(s) about recycling and cleaning up. Since they didn’t, do the best you can, be polite but guarded, and keep looking. Document what you are doing work wise and when the overseas person calls and tries to sell you stuff, simply say “not my decision. Fix X now please.”

    1. that's just me*

      But from the letters it seems like that’s what HR did: provide training on proper recycling, and then ask the LW to stop going through the trash.

    2. somebody blonde*

      So, I read the original letter quite differently. If the OP had just been going through the trash and putting the recycling in the proper bins, I bet the co-worker would’ve thought they were weird, but wouldn’t have complained. It was the passive-aggressive escalation to taking the stuff out and putting them on top of the bins without ever addressing it directly with the co-worker that probably freaked them out. Also, the tone of both letters makes me wonder if that’s really all OP was doing; they seemed incredibly hostile toward the co-worker and I can’t imagine they hid that well in person.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Exactly. Digging through the trash and putting recycling and compost items on top of the bins for well over a year. That is not normal office behavior, and, even if I were NOT the target of their passive-aggressive recycling campaign, I would have mentioned it to someone because who wants to see compostable materials that were dug out of the trash sitting on top of the bin every day for over a year? It’s gross.

  82. AnyaStormrage*

    OP, do some Googling and figure out where you’d like to live that you can afford, then find yourself a headhunter. My hubby was making 38.5k at a server farm dealing with trouble tickets for clients and getting dinged for being 5 minutes late for work and grew to hate his job. He got fed up, found a head hunter, and scored a remote gig for a multinational corp making 3x what he made before, and can mostly make his own hours. Keep in mind, he’s self taught with no certifications/degrees, just a smart brain and a love for computers and learning. We live outside of St Louis, have a cheap mortgage in a really nice neighborhood with good schools and are rapidly building a retirement fund. You do not have to lose money to stay in a job you hate, so don’t. Make a plan and get out of there. It might take some time to find the place you want to go to, it’s scary to leave what you know, but I promise you’ll be happier for it.

    1. STLer*

      I keep trying to sell STL to people who think it’s impossible to afford housing literally –anywhere–. Not here. It’s a good place to live, work, and raise a family.

      1. AnyaStormrage*

        St. Louis City is a weird city, I’d suggest the surrounding county or going out into the Greater St. Louis area as valid options, or even just over the river into Alton (legal weed is the only thing good about Alton)Illinois. Honestly, wherever OP goes doesn’t really matter, bottom line is OP can’t continue paying for the privilege of being overworked, underpaid, and miserable. OP, options are out there, even if you don’t want to leave CA, there are still options. Get yourself a headhunter and find a job you won’t hate.

  83. Autumnheart*

    OP is really painting himself into a corner with his behavior. Let’s look at what OP will need in order to junp ship:

    1. A good work history
    2. At least one good reference
    3. A record of successful projects and accomplishments from THIS job that OP currently has
    4. A solid understanding of whether OP’s skills are in demand, and where
    5. Interview skills that make OP seem like a shining beacon of reason and amiability to an observer

    First of all, it would absolutely be in OP’s best interest to put on the Academy Award-caliber acting chops and start being a nice, friendly colleague who doesn’t engage in actively avoiding people. After two years of the escalating trash battle, multiple talks with HR, and at least one coworker who will absolutely report any further episodes of unprofessional behavior, OP should be extremely careful to avoid being fired for cause. Unfortunately this seems like a serious possibility due to OP’s own behavior. A magical transformation into a Normal, Professional IT Person Who’s Nice To People needs to happen ASAP. Not because *this* job is going to ever be what OP wants, but if he ever wants another job *anywhere at all*, then it’s time to shape up.

    OP should do whatever he needs to do to get his head in the game. Got PTO coming? Take it. Have health insurance? Therapy, stat. In fact, get a physical too. Take up a sport. It’s time to fix that burnout and get out of that extremely aggressive and paranoid rut. OP will not break out of this situation without a serious change of mental state.

    Next, every time some outside consultant talks to OP about products, breaks a system tool that OP has to fix, etc. etc., OP should no longer look at those instances as “sabotage”, because what they really are is RESUME FODDER. All OP has to do is rephrase these situations to make it sound like he’s highly successful at what he does. “Built a tool that did X.” “Instituted a fix on the Y system that addressed ABC problem.” “Consulted with Blahblah Inc. about updating printer network.” It doesn’t matter if OP has purchasing authority, all that matters is whether it makes him look like a productive and accomplished employee on paper.

    And finally, HR might not be anyone’s friend, but OP’s gonna need at least one or two friends at his *current* job who can serve as, key word, POSITIVE references during his job search. That goes back to step 1: Be Nice And Professional.

    I won’t underestimate the mental burden of having to metaphorically give oneself a personality transplant, and try to “show up” for a job, when one is already so burned out that Smokey The Bear showed up on his doorstep. I get it. But OP needs to rehab his reputation with his colleagues, and he’s the only one who can do it. The other option is to leave, on OP’s terms or the company’s, and frankly, I don’t think that would be the worst thing to happen. Being unemployed in a tight market and with a bad previous job isn’t fun, but at least the job would no longer be exacerbating whatever OP is dealing with mentally and emotionally.

    So, OP. Monday’s a new week. Time for you to get your exit plan sketched out, then get moving.

  84. Anon for this*

    Hi LW. It sounds like you’re still having a hard time with these frustrating situations at work, and it would be helpful to find a way to deal with this stuff. It might really help to talk to a therapist. Especially right now with the pandemic, a lot of places are doing virtual visits, so you don’t even need to leave home.

    I’m not a therapist, and I’m not trying to diagnose you. But I want to say that I identify with the feeling of paranoia you seem to be experiencing – feeling like you can’t trust anyone and people are out to get you. I have a paranoid streak when I’m highly stressed. Personally, I had to learn to talk myself down from it.

    The reality is that the HR person is trying to engage in small talk because that’s just what people do. It would probably be good if you found a way to tolerate that and go along with it. I totally get that it feels malicious, but feelings aren’t facts. (Something I learned not in therapy itself but from reading free DBT resources online. Feel free to google something like “free DBT worksheets” if you would like to learn about it on your own. Sometimes it’s nice to read stuff privately, not just to go to therapy.)

  85. andy*

    >hiring outside consultants who constantly break systems that I have to scramble to fix

    I can confirm that IT outside consultants tend to be quite horrible. People who so easy parts of tasks so that it looks like done, but is not and leave massive mess behind. Then they look fast while everybody else is fixing the tricky frustrating bugs and is trying to make sense of mess.

    IT management is bad generally, but yeah. Good luck looking for new job.

  86. Anima*

    I feel so called out by this update.
    OP, I feel for you. I wanted to change some minor things in my current job, I wanted to be in control about at least one thing in my workday – both endeavours got shut down by management.
    But I’m also not handling that well, just as you. I feel so disrespected by my workplace. I went home crying more than one time out of pure helplessness and/or anger. Also, I see no perspective for me, because I can’t afford to be unemployed long enough to really actively job search (guess what, I’m making just a bit more than minimum wage for my country). Getting out seems not to be an option right now. It makes you feel so trapped, doesn’t it? But you, OP, and me need to move on. This is not sustainable.
    Currently I’m exploring what other options I have and it helps a lot to deal with work. I dream every minute of quitting already, but I can’t, and so I come home and look into what I CAN do. I think I’m going through with that later that year, hopefully I’m in a better headspace then. I wish you the same more positive outlook in work and life. And I wish us both to succeed and find a job that fits better.

    1. Maybe It's This*

      You sound like you’re in a better place than OP because of your self-awareness. I feel you will get that new job!

  87. Kathy*

    Wow, you seem to have numerous internal issues, including anxiety and boundary issues. I implore you to get counseling in the interest of helping you redirect your life in a way that makes you happy. You will never be able to control other people’s actions, no matter what you do, and ppl don’t trust you because YOU are not only reporting them to the government, but also rooting through their garbage! Move on, literarily- emotionally and physically.

  88. bwayne*

    All I can say is no one is holding the door closed so you cannot leave. You need to go before you develop even more issues with yourself. You picked the worst area for cost of living, I bet Texas, Tennessee or the rest of the south has tech jobs out there and cost 25% what you are trying to exist on now. Leave, move!

  89. LTL*

    OP, in order to stop feeling like you’re walking on eggshells, you need to understand why your coworker complained. If you understand why someone would feel fearful and offended by your actions, you’ll no longer be worried that any random thing will set them off. Because the complaint wasn’t random. And then you can learn from the event and move forward feeling confident in what you say and do without worrying about offending others because you understand why your previous actions landed the way they did.

    Besides that, were there any consequences of HR speaking to you? They only told you to stop doing something. So even if they do speak to you again about something, what’s the worse that could happen? You’re spending a lot of energy on avoiding something that has little consequence. The more energy you spend on avoiding people, the more resentment you’ll build up and the more unhappy you’ll be. If you let it go, you’ll feel freer, and even if something happens, yeah it’ll suck, but it will also pass. Let things pass. Don’t carry around discomfort with you.

    I mean this in the kindest way possible. You’re going to be unhappy until you learn to take ownership of your actions and life circumstances. Your entire update gives off this vibe of helplessness. That helplessness allows you to avoid taking responsibility (“people treat me badly and there’s nothing I can do about it “) but it also keeps you feeling… well, helpless. If you’re able to open yourself up to feedback and try to understand the people you work with, you open yourself up to the possibility of feeling empowered.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      That’s exactly the problem though … one of OP’s co-workers went to HR because they felt uncomfortable about this (understandably), and instead of addressing it holistically, or even seeking to understand OPs motivations or issues, they (HR) just banned OP from interacting with the bins any more.

      So, OP isn’t interacting with the bins any more and is now waiting for the next issue to drop from HR (from OPs perspective): What will trigger the next report to HR? Another disloyal co-worker? Someone else with issues with what she does?

      1. LTL*

        I don’t see how HR didn’t address the situation holistically. HR did what they were supposed to. An employee felt unsafe at work and they addressed it. And they did, in fact, hear OP’s side of the story.

        Reporting something to HR doesn’t make a coworker “disloyal”. This isn’t war. OP wasn’t punished. The whole point of HR is to ensure a cohesive working environment, not to track down bad apples and throw fire at them. HR reaching out to you isn’t an attack.

      2. thestik*

        Frankly, I’m surprised HR even had this much involvement. It seems like they went further than expected (barring interrogating the OP as to why she did this, which may not be in anyone’s best interests).

  90. bluephone*

    OP’s job situation sucks, truly, but they are still WAY too overly invested in this trash thing and quickly reaching the point of their coworkers going “okay, this person REALLY freaks us out because X, Y, and Z” to HR. The self-sabotage needs to stop.

  91. NeedsCoffee*

    At a former job, I got called into HR because I was overheard talking to someone who had been the victim of a smear campaign (people were trying to spread rumors she was cheating on her husband with a higher up). We’ll call her Anna. This was AFTER Anna had put in her two weeks of notice to take a new job. Some of the people there had a very catty mentality. The target of Operation Litterbox approached me to ask for help.

    My first bit of advice was to go see an employment lawyer to get an objective idea of what her options were and I was about to ask her if she felt comfortable going to the designated folks for harassment complaints. We were both and still are on good terms with my boss, Elena, and are all now friends (place went out of business, so we no longer work together).

    I was going to ask Elena if she knew who would be the best person to approach to disclose what happened, after asking Anna if that was ok with her (my boss was a manager and mandated by company policy to report it, I wasn’t, but wanted to help and make sure Anna was able to finish her time there without incident).

    The conversation was interrupted by a well known snitch, Sissy (made a career out of trying to get people in trouble) asking her for something, so I only got to the first part (see a lawyer).

    Before I had a chance to approach my boss for advice, I got called into HR for a grilling on what I knew and when I knew it. I answered direct questions honestly, but didn’t volunteer info.

    Anna, the target of Operation Litterbox ended up leaving that day, but was paid for the full two weeks of notice she gave. She followed my advice and got a settlement from the company, in addition to the full pay from our place and her new job.

    The office gossips and poo stirrers cost very real money, as well as institutional knowledge, and should be handled accordingly. Often management seems to not realize that.

    I continued working there for awhile. I didn’t take it personally. Jacques, the HR person who grilled me went on to another company. I got laid off (not related to snitch, it was shortly before the company shut down) probably a year or so after that. We’ve stayed on friendly terms and I was able to get advice from him on a difficult situation in the job I had after that, which worked really well. I’ve organized social get togethers/reunions and invited him.

    I was superficially pleasant to Sissy the snitch, but I never told her anything I wouldn’t send out in a company wide email. Lost touch with her a long time ago.

    And to be fair to Jacques, he was doing his job. He needed to know what was going on, so I have no ill will towards him, even though the grilling was anxiety provoking and awkward. I blame the poo stirrers and Sissy the Snitch.

    Also, after a hellish experience at another job, I learned just because you work together doesn’t mean your friends. Don’t trust anyone you work with. You can be friendly to them and maybe you’ll eventually become friends, but anyone you’re still working with might turn on you, so be wary of letting them into the “Circle of Trust”. Be pleasant and professional.

  92. Oh Behave!*

    OP I really hope you are doing all you can to get out of this place. If you have had interviews, take an honest look at them and you may see that you projected your issues into these interactions.
    I see nothing good coming out of this attitude you have adopted at work. Everyone is wrong from HR to your city’s code enforcement dept. Keep in mind that you were the one who started the drama storm. You are not owning your part in this whole mess. I have a feeling your employer will get fed up and fire you. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen for your sake; but I would not enjoy being your coworker.

  93. somebody blonde*

    Wow. OP, I think you should really reconsider your whole reaction. There are still tons of very highly paid software engineering jobs in the Bay Area- the market may be more competitive, but people are definitely still hiring. I think maybe some of the energy you’re exuding in these posts may be coming through on your application materials and killing your chances at these jobs.

  94. boop the first*

    The response to the aftermath is so steeped in self-victimizing language. You are not a victim. As far as recycling goes, no one has wronged you. The kitchen doesn’t revolve around you. People don’t think about you as much as you think they do. No one was sneaking around… if you’re making your workplace feel aggressive and judgemental as you were, they had the right to request a little peace. You were creating a problem.

    If you feel hostility about it now, it comes only from within yourself. Finding a new job is always a good idea, but don’t forget that you have to bring yourself with you. You can’t run away from you.

  95. KC Holz*

    IT jobs at the state pay well and are plentiful during the pandemic since so much support is needed for stay at home workers. You can find environmentally conscious sub agencies of the EPA to apply to and not just in the capitol region. There are regional offices that need your support which will allow you to work locally but may eventually open up to positions in more affordable areas.

  96. Des*


    You are in the BAY AREA making minimum wage in tech? How. Do you know that salaries in tech in Silicon Valley are typically six figures? Because that’s the cost of living there.

    What are you doing with your resume and your interviews, OP, that you can’t find a better job? There is something so deeply wrong with everything in this letter that I’m honestly baffled. You need to immediately find someone who can give you advice on your resume or on how you interview, because the salary you’re making makes no sense.

    However, I have to say based on the rest of this letter, I’m guessing that over-investing in things that don’t need investing in, and under-investing in things that really matter is the problem here. I’m sorry to say this, OP, but if your attitude in the interviews is even a smidgen as “enraged” as you last two letters, I’m not actually that surprised that you’re having trouble finding a good company to work in.

    1. Anon for this one*

      I wondered (but I could very well be wrong so I am open to being roasted!) whether OP isn’t actually a software engineer / IT as such, but has some other “day job” with a lower typical wage, but sometimes does software-type stuff like automating things in the software systems they work with or something.

      As an example: I once worked with someone who was a data entry operator (just above minimum wage work) but due to being slightly more experienced than their data entry team peers, got tasked with all the “UAT Testing” tasks when something was being changed in the data entry interface, i.e. can you try to do your normal job, and report back anything that seems odd or is broken.

      Next I knew this person was applying for a role as a Lead QA Automation Engineer at head office…. and was surprised pikachu that they didn’t get to the next round of interviews, and felt sure it must be a mistake on HRs part.

      1. Des*

        I see what you’re saying. Still, taking them at their word, in the original letter they write: “I’ve powered through an insane amount of projects that I don’t think any other developer here could have powered through at the speed that I did”. (Although I have never met a developer who has delivered on every requirement “flawlessly” as the OP claims; it just doesn’t happen in software due to the way the field moves so fast).

        If it is indeed the case their job title doesn’t match their duties, OP still needs to talk to people outside the company to gain some perspective and help with the way they present themselves. (And therapy, lots of therapy.)

  97. E*

    I don’t normally like to speculate on this but maybe the letter writer is on the autism spectrum! Their behavior is still as bizarre as it was when they first wrote and they’re still going on about the recycling!

    I care about the environment too but not enough to make people I work with everyday uncomfortable. Hope LW has more luck finding another job.

  98. Tiger Snake*

    There’s a lot of heated language in here, and there’s a lot of the OP still feeling a “Me vs. Them” attitude about, well, everyone in the office.

    First things first; OP, I think you know that this job isn’t good for you, since you mention not having found another job in your letter. Unfortunately, I feel like the current attitude you have to your current job isn’t helping.
    Hiring staff are looking for people who enjoy their work and are enjoyable to work with. Being clearly miserable or angry about your current job isn’t attractive to a potential employer. You seem so excessively unhappy about everything, that it makes me (and probably a hiring staff) wonder about whether you’d be happy in any job. So there’s your motivation to change; it’s going to have significant downstream benefits on an ongoing basis.

    So, my second question is; what are you able to let go of? Emotionally, what are you really willing to take a deep breath and just fundamentally stop caring about? What’s is your priority OP? If you could pick only one compliant, which would it be?
    Based on the complaints you list in this letter, the order you present them to us, and how often the same theme comes up, it seems your priority is “I hate everyone I work with”.
    Not being underpaid.
    Not being unappreciated.
    Not the bins.
    You’re writing that you hate these people. All these people, all the time. Your letter keeps coming back to this; no matter what any of your coworkers are doing, it somehow adds to your offense. Like the bitch-eating-crackers phenomena.

    If that’s not true, then I think you need to do some self-evaluation. I actually expect your gut reaction to be, “That’s not true”, because I’m sure you also recognize that hating all your coworkers isn’t healthy.
    But it is still what you seem to be telling us. And that’s not something that strangers the internet can help you with.
    I think you should talk to a therapist OP. Not because you’re broken. Not because you’re crazy. But because you need someone who can give you the time and effort it takes to unravel all those feelings, and help you come up with healthy strategies and outlets to cope.

    We want you to be happy OP. Please get some help so that you can be.

  99. Paul Pearson*

    oookay… there’s a lot to unpack here.

    I feel, OP, that you have a lot of genuinely stressful, not great things happening at the moment, and I know what it’s like to be so stressed that one teeny tiny thing added just feels like another Everest dropping on the pile. Unfortunately when you’re that on your limits our sense of perspective tends to skew a little.

    I strongly advise trying to find a time to look at all of this and cut some loose – you have some unpleasant things to deal with that you obviously want to focus on – the rest, the recycling, HR, the expenses the company is running up: not your circus, not your monkeys. I don’t think you have the headspace for them and it’s only hurting you letting them squat in your head

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