How Do You Deal With A Sucky Job?

Advancing your career in a swamp of a company is tough work—but if you know how successful people managed to do it, you can still blossom into awesomeness.

Good people get into bad situations. Over at Hacker News, a storm of insight is abrewing over the travails of a pseudonymed engineer who's gotten mired in a toxic organization.

How toxic? Leadership has made bad decisions; any efforts of change are met with waves of opposition. From what the poster says, it's time to leave.

  • "I have lost confidence in our leads, business or otherwise. It seems that severe lack of competence is to blame on both sides. It is vented in boardrooms albeit politely and it's probably even worse behind closed doors. I don't feel comfortable bringing suggestions up as I was instructed that I'm not the source of change. I should privately let my superiors know so that they in turn could bring it up. I did, it went nowhere."

So it's time for our frustrated dev to backflip out of the mess. The question, then, is when and how to leave. Three lines of advice emerged:

Bail immediately

Citing the psychological costs of being in a creativity-stifling environment, one suggestion was to "F that noise" and quit right away. Not worth the frustration, not worth your finite energy.

So how do you quit? Be gracious and don't burn bridges. As Amber Mac observed, no one wants an email breakup, especially not your manager.

  • "Take the time to book an appointment with your employer to resign in person," she writes. "While an official resignation letter might be necessary based on your employment contract, you can hand this in to your boss during your meeting instead of emailing it to him or her before your discussion."

Understand what went wrong

What can you learn from being in a toxic workplace? How not to do things.

Another user, one ChuckMcM, recommended using the waning days to put your anthropologist hat on and try to understand the roadblocks—an awesome practice for non-failing orgs, too.

  • "Start studying the people who are dysfunctional," he writes. "Find how how complete idiots maintain a lock on their power base, what techniques do they use if it is clearly not skill in their job."

This works in positive cases, too: Study the people that do well and try to understand the functions of their high-functioning.

Invest in the side hustle

Another option, perhaps for people with hearty psychological resilience, is to expend the minimum amount of energy at your crap job and bootstrap something awesome on the side.

There's a range of precedents. GitHub is an example: The founders were at constraining jobs while they laid the groundwork for their libertopia.

For creative folks, the stability of the stuck workplace can be an asset: It allows you to create something volatile on the side. The enthusiastically contrarian Nassim Taleb said as much in his Antifragile and his correpondence with us.

  • "Never go for medium profession," he wrote to us. "Literary writers should have a menial job or (if possible) a sinecure, and write on the side. Otherwise writing for a living under other people's standards debases their literature. The same for artists. The best philosophers were not academics, but had another job, so their philosophy was not corrupted by careerism."

So, in a weird way, a stifling job can actually make you more free.

Toxic workplace, what do I do?

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Bresson]

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3 Comments

  • Niels

    I've been in this spot before, in an organization that simply was dying on the vine, not willing to make change for the better.  There is always something to learn from an experience like this, namely what you don't want to in a company you work for (or create yourself).  My advice would be to seek out the competitors that are likely eating their lunch (or about to) and see what they might have to offer.  Typically more innovative companies out there have an inspired company culture that welcomes creative thought and challenging the status quo. 

  • SultanCracker

    "how how"?

    "Start studying the people who are dysfunctional," he writes. "Find how how complete idiots maintain a lock on their power base, what techniques do they use if it is clearly not skill in their job."

  • Gold Beard

    I'm not an advocate of burning bridges, but in my experience it is often unavoidable. I've worked for two companies that I felt, despite my emotional attachement, had gone in a negative direction. Upon giving notice, I was asked for an explanation as I had heretofore been a loyal and productive employee. I felt compelled to be fully candid and, indeed, the company did not want to hear what I had to say and thus acrimony was created. I have no regrets.