Should I stay or should I go now asks:
Frequent reader, infrequent commenter. Love the blog!
I was wondering if you could help me with a situation at work, or help me decide if I should quit or what.
I am a PhD in a tech field and I’m working in a specialized industry in a lower-level management/upper-level development position. I love the current project that I’m working on, my immediate team is great, and my immediate boss’s heart is in the right place. My current problem is instead with the Powers that Be.
We recently moved floors in the building. Cubicles were assigned without managerial or employee input, possibly at random. My cube is placed in such a way that it is actually impeding my ability to work. Think terrible smell from the restroom that keeps me nauseated or a draft so cold my fingers can’t work the keyboard. That kind of thing. I spend most of the day in the library or cafeteria or a conference room with my laptop, which isn’t great for productivity because I don’t have the dual-screen set-up etc.
I put in a request for my desk to be moved. It was denied without comment. They did send maintenance by to try to fix the problem, but it’s still a major problem. My boss tried to argue my case, but that just made the Powers that Be more upset. In fact, they have reneged on some special work they wanted me to do prior to this fiasco. I suspect that this situation has caused them to think poorly of me.
And the thought is returned… senior management doesn’t seem to care about the productivity or happiness of their workers. This example is just the one that is affecting me directly and making me less productive and more unhappy.
I know you guys are really into personal finance, so I think I should say that we have a lot of money saved and my partner makes enough of an income that we could get by if I were unemployed or self-employed without clients for a while. I could just up and quit. I’ve looked at the job listings and talked to a few people and it doesn’t look like there’s anybody hiring in my current field in my city right now and moving cities would be near impossible because of our family situation. I have been thinking about striking out on my own or getting trained in a different field, but that was more a 5-year plan thing.
Should I move that plan up? Should I quit now? Should I try harder to fix the problem at work? How?
What should I do? I’d especially like advice from your awesome readers to see what they think.
The readers should definitely weigh in! Our advice may be academic… of course, if there’s a management organization characterized by liking one’s coworkers and one’s work and not seeing eye-to-eye with upper management… academia may be it.
It seems like there are several things going on here.
I want to highlight that you like your work and your coworkers and your immediate boss. That suggests it may be worthwhile trying to keep this job, at least in the short- to medium-term.
However, your current day-to-day working environment is untenable and you suspect that management has labeled you a trouble-maker. They may have done that. Also you have some ideas for future paths and you have the resources that you could spend some time exploring them even if they come to nothing. That suggests that leaving this job won’t be the end of the world.
Those two facts give you an incredible amount of bargaining power. You can draw a line in the sand exactly where you want it drawn and whatever management responds with will be fine with you. Either they will fix the problem and you can go back to being a productive cog, or they won’t and you just left a job that was making you miserable with no sign of relenting.
I want to encourage you, however, to take emotions out of your decision-making. Stop worrying about if upper-management makes bad decisions or if they think poorly of you in ways that are not deserved. Don’t stop *thinking* those things — don’t stop putting them into your decision functions, but do stop being emotionally bothered by them. I know that’s easier to say than to do, but you can leave this job and you can leave it professionally. You are not trapped. You also don’t have any time pressure on this decision– you can make it at any time.
Focus instead on the immediate problems and your long-term goals.
First: the immediate immediate problem. Having a work environment that keeps you from being productive. Given that you’ve already been denied a desk change because (presumably) they think the problem can be fixed, go through the procedure to see if the problem can be fixed. Yes, a new desk would be nice, but what you really need is for the smell to go away or whatever. First step: Call maintenance yourself, and politely ask for an update. That should give you information on whether or not this problem is actually fixable. If it isn’t, or if fixing it is going to cause the company cost-problems, that’s more information you can bring forward when you ask for a desk-change again. If it is fixable, then ask them about their time-line for fixing it or if there’s a formal procedure you should be going through to request a fix. A good way to start the conversation is, “I need your help” or “I was hoping you could help me.” Second step: If maintenance can’t fix it, think about creative solutions…for example, headphones or ear plugs can be a temporary solution for a noisy office. If your cube is untenable, then maybe you can request a cart and an additional monitor for working elsewhere, even if that’s ridiculous. Come up with several potential solutions, discuss them with your boss, and bring the formal request up again, this time with more information. Bonus points if you do a cost-benefit analysis of each potential solution, making it easy for them to pick a solution that is little effort on their parts that you’re happy with (turns out adults like choice almost as much as toddlers). You tried their solution and it didn’t work, here are some additional suggestions.
Next: Do not ignore this worry that upper-level management has labeled you a trouble-maker. Instead, address it head on. Read the book Crucial Conversations (or Crucial Confrontations– but we haven’t read the latter). It will give you a script for how to deal with this kind of problem, but you need to deal with it face-to-face so that they can see that you’re a real person and you’re professional and you want to solve problems and make the company productive. Pretend to yourself (or suspend your disbelief) that their goals are to help you be productive and to help the company do the best that it can. I have found that often when I approach people who I know are all about their own power-trips with the earnest and outspoken belief that they are doing their jobs with the best interests of the department/school in mind that they become more of their better selves and they align themselves with trying to fix the problem I’m having, even if it doesn’t end up being the original solution I proposed. So that thing they reneged on– talk to them about it, ask if there’s any way that can be re-upped, or make yourself available for similar opportunities in the future. In person. Or talk to them about another issue. But talk to them professionally and politely with an open but guarded heart. (After reading Crucial Conversations– truly an excellent book.)
Finally: your long-term goals. None of the short-term potential fixes preclude you from exploring your 5 year plan options or shortening that plan. You don’t have to make any firm decisions and you can play it by ear, but definitely think about your next steps and work on those. If management is truly incompetent, you’ll be leaving this company some day (because the company goes under or you finally have had enough) or the management will be replaced.
So what would I do in that situation? I would call maintenance, talk to my boss a little bit more, and come up with some potential solutions. I would also escalate up that reneged thing if it’s important or still has a chance of being salvaged, and hopefully meet with some of these power players so they can see that I’m a model employee and not a trouble-maker. And I would start tapping those networks and doing some introspection (which for me means looking at my bank accounts). If my cubicle still had that problem that made it impossible for me to work after my best efforts to fix it or get switched, I would politely and professionally draw that line in the sand. There’s no point in working at a company if you can’t be productive.
I think you should try to hang on a little longer. There’s no guarantee you won’t have crazy situations elsewhere. Everything is great except senior management, but they might change. You might outlast them! Especially if they want to move up the ladder at your company (where they hopefully won’t have contact with you anymore) or at a shinier company (even better).
Try to enlist your sympathetic boss to aid you, but approach the conversation carefully. Remember, you both have the same goal: productive workers who stick around.
In the meanwhile, use technological solutions (acquire some fingerless gloves or a surgical face mask etc.) to wear in your cubicle. Who cares how you look? If it helps you be more productive, do it. (Even try to have your boss pay for it.) If other people think you look weird they may eventually address the underlying problems and if not, at least you can be comfortable.
#1 is a bit concerned about the face-mask. People might think you’re a weird germophobe. But you can probably push pretty close to the line on technological solutions without going too far, especially if you can manage to do it cheerfully with company-make-do-can-do-spirit rather than in a passive-aggressive manner. Use company branded products if such are available!
Grumpy Nation, what would you advise? What would you do in this situation? What should you do?