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Fix It Or Forget It?

October 31st, 2012

The economy has made the job market so difficult, that many have taken positions they otherwise wouldn’t, and stayed longer in situations they previously would have deemed “intolerable.” Yetta* and Zeke* share their stories.

Yetta* couldn’t find anything in her chosen field after being laid off, so until something came along, she got a job working in a family style chain restaurant.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was a job, and she had quite a few hours, and the manager seemed to like her.

Interviews were few and far between, and Yetta was able to switch shifts when she needed to as interviews came up.  It seemed to be the best stop gap measure in the meantime, and it paid more than unemployment, which wasn’t going to last forever, anyway.

One afternoon, a man in a suit, carrying a portfolio, came up to the counter and asked for the manager.  Yetta went to get him from the back, and continued cleaning in the back, preparing for dinner rush.

Yetta figured that he was selling something: restaurant equipment or perhaps some line of food that the restaurant stocked, since vendors often came during the slow times of day when there were few customers.

Shortly after, the manager returned to the kitchen.  He had obviously turned the salesperson away – or so she thought.

When Yetta asked him about it, he told her that he was looking for a job, not selling something.

“But I thought you were looking to hire a couple more people,” Yetta replied, somewhat puzzled.

“Yes,” the manager responded, “But not one of them.  They aren’t good workers.”

Yetta was stunned to realize that the manager meant he wouldn’t even consider hiring an African-American applicant, and even more shocked that someone would blatantly say so.

The manager went on, elaborating about how unreliable “they” are, with a story of some past worker whose car broke down frequently, etc., etc.

“I’m not sure what I said, because I was so shocked,” Yetta recounted.  “I think that mostly, I just listened.  I wish I could have afforded to quit that night, but, of course, I couldn’t.  I started wondering if he liked me for my hard work, or simply because I was a white employee!”

Yetta made a point to be “busy” at work and have little time to chat after that encounter with the manager.  If she didn’t have work to do, she had a book to read, a call to make, or something else to do – but no time to talk with him!

Several more (long!) months passed, and she finally got a job offer in her field, and accepted it.

“I didn’t tell anyone about my boss for a few months, and when I finally did, a friend gave me some good advice: Report him to the EEOC!”  Yetta said.  “I had felt so bad for that young man who came into our restaurant that day.  Here I had been job hunting, too – just like him – and he was told that there was no job available, which was a lie!”

Before she turned in her two weeks’ notice at the restaurant, Yetta decided to Fix It! by notifying the EEOC with details on what her manager had done – and said – about refusing to hire African Americans.

“Now, we know he’ll have a vacancy to fill!” Yetta said.

Zeke* had been looking a while, when he got an offer, then made a counter-offer for the position he wanted.  After a series of shrewd negotiations, he and his new employer arrived at final terms.  His new Vice President even complimented him on his negotiation tactics.

It was clear that the employer hadn’t planned on ending with the terms as they did, but Zeke’s response was that he will work that hard when negotiating on behalf of the company in his new sales position.  His Vice President seemed pleased with this perspective.

At Zeke’s company, all positions are contracted on an annual basis and subject to renewal.  Although Zeke’s sales had been doing quite well in his first year, some of his co-workers were average or below average, falling victim to the tough economic times.

He watched one co-worker not get her contract renewed, shortly before his was due, and became somewhat nervous.  Although his sales were good, he and the Regional Manager didn’t always see eye to eye.  The Regional Manager seemed more interested in finding details to complain about, instead of noticing that Zeke’s overall sales were up.

When it came time to discuss Zeke’s contract renewal, his Regional Manager informed him that, while his contract was being renewed, it was going to be for less base pay – far less!  His quotas were being set higher, and if he exceeded those, his commissions could compensate.

“And the reason I was given for paying me less?”  Zeke was incensed.  “I was told that a new Marketing Assistant was being hired, and the company hadn’t budgeted for it, so they needed the funds!  How pathetic is that?!  What really happened was they looked for some excuse to pay me what they wanted to in the first place!”

In addition, Zeke’s office was taken away, and it was explained that since he was “on the road,” he could share with another sales rep, while the Marketing Department would be using his office.

“So, on the one hand, my commission bar has to be set higher, because I’m so successful, but on the other hand, I deserve a smaller office?” Zeke asked.  “I don’t think so!  I can see the writing on the wall.”

Zeke looked upon this as “one year’s notice,” and decided to Forget It!  He began looking for another job immediately.  Obviously, the Vice President and/or the Regional Manager didn’t really view Zeke’s salary negotiation tactics as a demonstration of what good he’d do for the company, but instead, decided to punish him for it – all the while, taking advantage of whatever sales talent they can get.

It didn’t take the full year, but within about eight months, Zeke had found a position with a company that truly appreciated his talents, instead of pretending to.

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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