it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1. “It feels surreal that it’s finally my turn to write in for Good News Friday. I’m very grateful to be a long-time reader of AAM because I don’t know how messed up my sense of business norms would be right now if I wasn’t.

About five years ago, I moved to the city to be with my now-wife and launched a job search with very little experience. I applied to a job in eCommerce because I thought it sounded fun, interviewed, and accepted on the spot.

It took me two years to realize how toxic and dysfunctional the company is. Some highlights: My boss had to send almost all of my correspondence for the first year because I didn’t have the correct email address. I was told that I lacked critical thinking skills because I couldn’t provide information that didn’t exist. The VP had us all under constant video surveillance in the office. My boss regularly made jokes like, “Does your back hurt from carrying the team?” while I struggled to juggle the workload of anywhere from two to five people. “We’re a family” environment. My coworker received a raise and an offer for his own tailored position by walking off the job and quitting without notice.

Still, it didn’t seem that bad until Covid hit. We were (very grudgingly) allowed to work from home only until our state lockdown was lifted. Masking requirements and social distancing went unenforced. Shared bathrooms were not cleared regularly. Our VP made a joke about being safe because he’d already had Covid the same week our president announced the death of four warehouse employees from it. I genuinely felt that management would rather I be dead than WFH.

In the midst of being overworked, underpaid, burnt-out, and cracking under the stress of the pandemic, I launched a job hunt in fall 2020 and received an offer a few months in. The health insurance was double the cost of my current (for the exact same coverage) and the salary required to make up the difference was well beyond their range. I turned it down and told myself that if I could get one offer, there would be the others.

And then … there weren’t. Between fall 2020 and spring 2022, I applied to over 100 positions. I had more phone screens than I can count, many of which turned into first- or second- or third-round interviews, but no offers.

I was exhausted—more than burnt out from trying to handle the workload left behind by the 70-80% turnover in my department as well as using most of my free time to apply for jobs and schedule interviews. I considered giving up and just having an honest conversation with my department head about my career trajectory.

I still had one more interview already scheduled. A phone screen with HR. An interview with the hiring manager. It was one of those magical interviews that everyone talks about that feels more like a conversation than anything else.

That was on a Friday. On Monday, HR called to offer me the job. It’s a significant raise, fully remote, no travel expectations, as good or better insurance coverage, flexible work hours. Work that I’m already doing and love, but with opportunities to explore other areas and learn industry-standard software my last company refused to use. A company that actually used WFH during the pandemic to take a serious look at whether certain departments actually needed to be in-office and decided that some of them didn’t.

During my notice period, our CEO went on a rant about how he didn’t understand why everyone is leaving while also announcing that the company would go under if they, you know, paid everyone the current market value of their work. It’s a total mystery.”

2.  “I was employed for just under one year at a nonprofit — one that was poorly led, always putting out fires, and did not have a sustainable program model. Workers had not received a cost of living raise in over five years, and every single entry-level employee was either married or had a roommate, as no one could afford to live on their own.

After months of chronic stress due to the unhealthy work environment, I was offered a similar position at a much more stable and sustainable nonprofit organization that highly values its employees. I’ve received a 40% raise from my previous position (right at the top of their hiring range), have training and development money, organizational support, and a chance to grow my skills in new areas. Thanks to your blog for keeping me hopeful during the dark times at my last employer and for setting me up for success in my new position.”

3.  “I am an independent consultant who started reading your blog back when I thought maybe I’d be expanding and building an agency. That didn’t work so well but I stayed reading because I find your advice so helpful. Not being (or having) a manager I didn’t think I’d ever have much to share.

Recently I’ve been going through a period of burnout. I’ve never been one to not be busy, but the last 3 years have been exceptionally intense with an international move, restoring a historic house, Covid, and some personal tragedies. Through it all I actually managed to keep my consultancy going and had my most profitable year in 2021. By December 2021, though, I was just burnt out. The first quarter of 2022 has been me limping along and getting barely enough done to keep things ticking over.

I’ve been limping along with one client and kept postponing the final deliverable for a project. I took a lot of language from you — “dealing with a personal health issue,” etc. Every time hoping if I could just push the deadline off a little longer, I could force myself to finish the project. Finally, I leveled with the client, told them I had no idea when I’d manage to complete this, offered them an out for the contract or the opportunity to just wait. Doing this felt like a failure, but between here and my therapist I reframed it as I was already failing this client and admitting it didn’t make it more a failure.

The exciting news is the client came back understanding it and saying they’re willing to wait and they want me to finish when I can and they’ll pay the full amount. And what did I think a realistic timeline was?

Sometimes it feels hard to just own up to things. But in this case laying the cards out saved me the client and is giving me some breathing space. I’m taking a few days off from client work to unpack.”

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. Murfle*

    I’m so proud of all of you, but especially LW3. Good for you for recognizing your own burnout, talking to a therapist, recognizing that being honest with your client is the best thing, and for keeping so many balls in the air. You’re doing such hard stuff, so it’s important to treat yourself well.

    1. Squirrel Nutkin*

      YES! You did great, LW#3! Don’t we all wish that when a company or a worker can’t deliver as promised that they’d be brave and own up to it as you did? I’ll bet you were a breath of fresh air for your honesty.

    2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Agreed. You did the hard thing. Healing and strength to you.

  2. ecnaseener*

    Congrats everybody!!!

    #2 makes me wonder though, is an entry-level salary supposed to be enough to live alone? I don’t think I know any entry-level people without roommates (to be fair, all the entry-level people I know are college-educated so student loans are a factor). Housing prices have grown so much more than wages.

    1. Ama*

      15 years ago it was possible, even in a very high COL area, because I did it. But as I point out to people, my rent was half what the median one bedroom rent in even the “affordable” neighborhoods in our city are now, plus I could get by with dial up internet and a cell phone bill that was 1/3 what it is now (no smart phones, so no data plan), and public transit unlimited monthly cards were also about 60% what they now cost. Most employers remain pretty willfully blind to how fast the COL has grown in relation to their wages — even the ones that give annual COL raises still start their entry level employees at basically the same salary I made back in 2004.

    2. Extra*

      Truth. My job started as entry level and I could live alone on it (in the suburbs of a famously expensive city) but in the 4 years since then, I’ve moved up but housing costs have moved ever faster.

    3. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

      I have an entry level state job (that still required some experience and a degree), which pays on the highest end of the allowable salary band, and if I absolutely maxed out the 30% of my gross income, I could afford the world’s saddest studio apartment, complete with all the yellowed laminate surfaces you could desire.

      I live in a west coast city of about 50k that is not known for being expensive. The cost of housing is just absurd.

      1. Chapeau*

        This is my job. If my spouse was my child or had no income, as a family of 3 we would qualify for SNAP, medicaid, etc. None of the people I know who have the same job I do are single, or else they live with parents. No way to pay both student loans and housing costs. Most of the non-singles have a partner who is highly compensated. We stay for the fabulous health insurance and the promise of a pension. But if something happened to spouse, I couldn’t afford to keep working here, even with both life and disability insurance on him.
        And yeah, employer thinks the salary is very generous. No, the salary and benefits are generous. The salary alone is barely above the poverty line.

        1. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

          I recently was talking with a city official about some affordable housing programs that have gotten a lot of hot press here, and was like, “it is both sad and highly appropriate that the ‘affordable housing’ that is supposed to be for people in poverty is also the only housing that entry level city/state workers can afford.” I am not sure who that reflects worse on – the city and state, or the housing climate as a whole.

          I also live with my partner, which is the only way my housing situation would work. One of the many, many ills of the cost of housing is that it absolutely drives people who are in abusive or unsafe (or just unhappy) situations to stay, because what other options are there?

          1. LPUK*

            In Uk, ‘Affordable housing’ is a total joke unless its social housing. Private developers are supposed to give over up to 25% of their housing to be affordable homes, but 1. they very often negotiate out of it by giving a stupidly low amount of money (S106) to the council in recompense , but ‘affrodarble’ is defined as a certain level of discount of the cost of average housing on that estate, rather than by some multiple of average salary in the area. as most developers like to build highly profitable detached family houses, i think you can probably guess how “affordable’ they actually are. when I bought my own new house, some 2 o years ago, i paid £186k for a spacious 3 bed town house ( I know I know, don’t shoot me) whereas literally next door they were asking £105k for a -‘compact’ one bed house classed as ‘affordable’

            1. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

              In the US, there are two similar programs: affordable housing, and subsidized housing. Subsidized housing (which I think is similar to social housing) is extremely hard to find. Think wait lists of 10+ years. Affordable housing is usually determined by the city, county, or state. The reason I was talking to the person about affordable housing was because I wanted to know what ~*~*~*affordable housing hooray*~*~*~*~ actually looked like and how it was accessed via Real Actual Dollars.

              Affordable housing tax benefits in my city are offered when two things are met: 1, your tenant makes 115% or less of the area median income, and 2, that tenant is paying under 30% of their income for their apartment. So, for us, you could be making 72k a year and be paying $1,800 for a 300sq ft ~*modern loft studio*~, and that would be considered “affordable housing”. Depending on the permit, developers need to have a certain number of “affordable housing” units per building, and they can continue to receive the tax benefit as long as they send in an Excel spreadsheet that shows the names, incomes, and rent paid by a certain number of their tenants.

              And no, there is no oversight on this.

              It is an absolute racket.

              1. Alexa*

                I work in urban planning and what qualifies as “affordable housing” for developers is absolutely bananas. Think up to 120% of AMI (area median income) in NYC, for example. Many many people are turned away from affordable housing for being too low income.

                The problem is that to create what we call “deep affordable” (ie housing affordable to retail workers, or to the formerly homeless) you need to subsidize it to a level that requires federal money, and the federal government isn’t interested in that at this time. They did it well in the 1920s-1950s, but defunding and racism gave it the unpleasant reputation it has today.

                A smattering of nonprofits do it (for high risk veterans, for example) but I just worked on a 6-unit apartment building of that type and it was a nightmare of costs and approvals. Plus, the most difficult part of affordable housing is getting the money to maintain it over time, since the rent can’t cover it all.

                This problem, and deferred maintenance in lean times, gives us things like NYTCHA’s problems with lead paint or Cabrini-Green’s difficulties. It’s a hot take that some people need help, but if we want to have grocery store clerks or if we want people to not live on the street, it does take cash.

          2. Chapeau*

            Yes, sadly. A former coworker was contemplating divorce, and discovered that she and her kids easily qualified for low-income housing based on her salary. She has now doubled her salary in the new job and was finally able to lose the husband as well.

    4. talos*

      Really depends what field. I work in software, where first offers out of college can be anywhere from $75k to $140k or more. All my friends in my field (we’re all <=5 years out of college) are either married, living alone, or not living alone *by choice*.

      (I am, of course, aware that not all fields are like this)

      1. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

        Is that true of indirect positions in the industry as well? IE: admin, facilities, etc?

        1. Creature from the Black Lagoon*

          Is this a real question, or sarcasm? Software engineers are in huge demand right now, and are paid accordingly. I work for a software company in a non-tech role, and I get paid way less than the engineers do despite having more educational credentials. Is it fair? I dunno. I don’t love it, but that’s how the job market works.

          1. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

            A real question, but maybe intentionally obtuse. :)

            I ask because some tech companies understand that yes, in-demand positions deserve high pay, but also, high pay across the board (or at least, higher pay) creates a more equitable work environment. And some companies are happy to pay 150k to an entry level software developer, but poverty wages to an admin person (who does critical work to support the developers) or janitor (who cleans literal shit).

            So, maybe this is very semantic-y, but when someone says “this field pays well”, it is important to consider who is supporting that success but not getting paid, and if that means that the field is getting paid well, or just software developers (who, according to most data, start out with a fair amount of privilege).

    5. UKDancer*

      It’s a lot harder than it used to be especially in London. I started work 20 years ago and violently didn’t want to live with people because after 4 years of university I desperately wanted space and privacy. So I rented an incredibly badly maintained attic flat in a Victorian terrace in a rather scruffy South London suburb. It was a real struggle (and I spent the last week of each month eating beans on toast because my salary did not stretch ). It’s even harder now because the prices of property in London has shot up and the rental market is ridiculous. So most of my young entry level colleagues have to live in house shares or in some cases with parents.

      I think it’s slightly easier outside London but it’s not great.

    6. Alternative Person*

      I think an entry-level salary should be enough to support a fairly basic solo-living arrangement and the fact that living with roommates is not a choice but a necessity shows how badly wages/salaries have fared against overall growth in recent decades.

      There’s a whole passel of reforms that need to take place that include capping student loan costs (at minimum), taxing the super rich, reforming housing, raising the minimum/living wage and more.

  3. Richard Hershberger*

    “our CEO went on a rant about how he didn’t understand why everyone is leaving while also announcing that the company would go under if they, you know, paid everyone the current market value of their work. It’s a total mystery.”

    I am constantly impressed by how many supposed businessmen don’t understand that if your business model doesn’t allow for paying enough to attract employees, you don’t have a business model. Stomping your foot as you throw a tantrum does not change this, much less make it anyone else’s problem.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Yeah, can’t understand at all why people are leaving after bragging about Covid and micromanaging. How could anyone possibly want to leave?

    2. LPUK*

      Yes! Absolutely. If you can’t charge enough to cover living wages, then that is not a sustainable business model , and you are not in fact a fearless entrepreneur building jobs for the country but yet another failing or exploitative industry subsidised by the public purse because your ‘workers’ still qualify for social benefits

  4. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

    It will never make sense to me why businesses operate like op1’s former place of employment. Almost always, allowing that kind of turnover and that kind of environment is causing them to lose profit. You would think that if you’re a terrible company who doesn’t prioritize your employees, you would prioritize profits???

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Incapacity for abstract thought. Only line items on a spreadsheet count. Wages paid employees are a line item. Cost to the company of employee turnover is not.

      1. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

        Fair enough, but it is common knowledge that hiring costs money, right?

        It feels similar to when solutions are trying to be implemented to a big problem that have shown to be effective and successful in other places. Such as ranked voting, or low-barrier housing, or safe injection zones, or 4 day work weeks. People often think, “sure it worked somewhere else, but it couldn’t possibly work here!” except in this case is “sure turnover can cost companies money, but not here! Our employees are leaving for reasons we can’t control!”

        Cue also the TikTok sound “…Is it me? Am I the drama?”

      2. Shiba Dad*

        Good point. “Management by spreadsheet” is real. I’ve experienced it.

        Many moons ago one of my college professors said that financial people can be “myopic” when it comes to managing. The numbers matter, “why the numbers are what they are” doesn’t.

        I’d add that there is sometimes a belief that “everyone is replaceable”. That’s only true in the sense that you can put another body there.

    2. Alternative Person*

      It’s weird. I’ve tried to make sense of it in various different jobs over the years and it broadly comes down to a certain level of entitlement combined with some level of victim complex. There’s certain economic pressures that influence it that are out of their direct control, sure, and the ins and outs might be different, but it comes back to some form of entitlement/victim complex eventually.

  5. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    I’m sure many people feel like LW#1 if they work somewhere toxic and might be ready to give up. Don’t!

    It’s hard to persevere when you’re this stressed, but I urge people to not give up the hunt entirely. Sometimes even if you take just a Saturday morning to apply to 2-3 jobs per week, it keeps you going.

  6. Hockey girl 20*

    Wow, LW1 gives me so much hope! I’ve been job hunting for just over a year with no luck. So happy for all these writers!

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I am not in this situation now, but I have been there before back in 2009. In the US most people can’t afford to just quit a crap job, and it can be really hard to find time & energy to keep up the job search.

    2. C.L. is tired*

      I just quit my horrible company (I love my job/coworkers but upper management is awful) and letters like that really make me nervous. We have savings to get by for now and I’m in a grad program for an in-demand field but I’m really hoping it doesn’t take me a year to find something. I didn’t really have a choice as the stress has started having a big impact on my health and I don’t want to die for a job, ya know?

      1. Squirrel Nutkin*

        Good for you for getting out! : ) And I hope you do find a nice job that treats you well.

    3. Squirrel Nutkin*

      Hang in there, and good luck! One of these days, we’ll be reading about you in Good News Friday. : )

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