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Fix It Or Forget It?

August 22nd, 2012

In an ideal work situation, co-workers and managers can not only get along in their jobs, but hopefully, can have some personal relationships that make the days more pleasant and meaningful as well. That’s not always the case, though.  See what Kathy* and Lisa* faced.

Kathy* thought she was making a routine call to her daughter’s day care center, merely to tell them that her neighbor would be picking up her daughter, ironically, because she was going to be working late.

“If I had known what was about to take place, I certainly would have made the call privately on my cell, and not from my work phone in my cubicle, for everyone to hear,” she explained.

The manager of the daycare took the opportunity to lambast her for a delinquent payment and nearly threaten to expel her child on the spot, if she didn’t make immediate arrangements for payment of her balance by the end of the day.

Kathy was so shocked, flustered, apologetic – and embarrassed that all of her co-workers and supervisor could hear – that she was nearly in tears by the time she hung up the phone, promising to have the money within a couple of days.

“I felt as though I had been publicly spanked by the principal, or something,” Kathy recalls.  “I was still fairly new to this job, and trying really hard to make a good impression.  With that single phone call, I felt that my reputation was gone.  It was all I could do to not burst out crying.”

Then, she was surprised by what happened next.  Her manager came over and insisted that she come out “for coffee” with her, across the street, to the coffee shop.

“I thought it was nice of her to give me a breather,” Kathy recalls, “But I was totally unprepared for what happened next.”

Kathy’s manager asked her how much money she needed to pay her balance – and lent her the money on the spot, saying she could pay her back “whenever she could”!

“I couldn’t believe it!”  Kathy said.  “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t dream of asking for myself, but for my kid is another matter.  Plus, I didn’t ask . . . she offered.  I remember thinking it was like a gift from heaven – and that I was really lucky to have found this job.  Also, I was going to work extra hard for my new boss!”

For the next couple of weeks, Kathy was very pleased to have the financial buffer – and showed it, by working that much harder, coming in a bit early and working a bit late.

After a while, however, Kathy began  noticing a difference in her manager’s behavior – particularly toward her.

Whenever there was an extra job – especially a menial one – she asked Kathy to do it.

“The first hundred times, I was quick to volunteer,” Kathy explained, “But it started to wear thin after that.  I have skills, too, and they go beyond doing her photocopying and getting her coffee, you know?”

When everyone was going to go out to lunch to celebrate someone’s engagement, Kathy’s manager asked, “Are you sure you’ll be able to do that?”  The double implication was that Kathy had too much work to be able to leave the office for the long lunch . . . as well as should she spend the money on eating out?

“I hated myself for it, but I stayed in and worked on finishing her project instead of going out with the gang.”  Kathy told me.  “It was like a turning point, though.  I realized that she seemed to think she bought me, or something, with that loan.  I had to pay it back in full – and soon.”

Kathy and I first worked out a strict payment schedule, so that she could escape the obvious indentured servitude that her boss viewed her as being in.

Next, we found ways for her to defer the various requests of photocopying, coffee, recycling and other menial tasks, without saying “no,” such as, “Oh, I’m about to head that way myself . . . as soon as I finish this ____ report that the director needs.  I can get to it as soon as this is done.”  (Of course, “this” would end up taking a good 30 minutes or so.  If her other task was really important, she’d probably go do it herself before then – or ask her assistant.)

Obviously, it wasn’t enough to get out from under the image of being servile – Kathy needed to document and highlight the important projects that she was working on and contributing to.  Her record keeping of the important projects that she produced helped her to Fix It! when she presented portions of her projects – and their successes – at the next annual staff meeting.

By then, she was rarely photocopying, opening mail or doing other tasks that were not in her job description, so people on staff began to see her for what her job description truly was, and not her manager’s lackey any longer.  (She also makes a point to have all personal calls off site on her cell phone.)

Lisa* worked for a manager who turned out to be an absolute tyrant.  She came to me after a particular set of circumstances occurred at work.

“I guess I knew he was awful, but it became clear just how bad when he was out sick several months ago.”

Lisa works for a medical equipment supply company, and the policy regarding sick leave is pretty strict, because the sales staff often encounters both people with difficult conditions and weakened immune systems.

“If you’re sick, you stay home,” Lisa explained, and you CAN’T return until you’re 100% well.”

Apparently, her manager was on sick leave for several weeks with something that weakened him substantially.

“I never thought of myself as the type of person to take joy in another’s suffering, but I can’t begin to describe how thrilled and relieved I was, every day he wasn’t there!”

“It’s such a different environment,” she explained, “Not being someone’s target all day long.  It’s a much better way to work!

“For a while,” Lisa said, “After he returned, things were tolerable . . . but that’s only because he was both weak & overwhelmed.  It didn’t take him long to become hostile and blame me for anything that didn’t go right each day.”

Lisa then found herself, upon hearing about some epidemic in the news, wishing he would catch it!

“Later, while returning from lunch, I overheard chatter of a bad four car pileup not far from our office . . . I found myself checking the employee lot for his car!”

Lisa explained that working at this company, for someone so hateful, was “turning me into somebody I don’t like.”

She knew the job search might be long and tough, but wanted to Forget It! with this employer.

I helped Lisa with her job search, but explained that most people’s searches have been taking up to a year, and that one of the most important assets she’ll need to have is a positive attitude to help her find the next position – since employers don’t care to hire workers who want to “escape” their current job.

This took the greatest amount of effort on Lisa’s part, but it was also what she wanted to work on the most, since it was what motivated her to look elsewhere to begin with.  She didn’t care for what her current environment was doing to her outlook.

It also helped her achieve something else necessary for any job hunt:  good references.  Although her immediate supervisor wouldn’t be a candidate, there were other people who ended up serving well in this capacity when it came time for Lisa to accept a job offer.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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