Oct. 19, 2022

when work is not good

When I released this week's episode, I polled my Instagram audience: do you feel like you can be yourself at your job?

63% said yes, and the other 37% feel as if they have to put on a front with a weird, fake version of themselves. If you ask me, that's 37% too many. If we're going to spend twenty, forty, or even more hours a week in the same environment, we deserve to be content and accepted there. Don't misinterpret this: we are not entitled to slacking off or being a jerk, and we all need to put the work in (a friend of mine recently had an employee ask for a day off to "find her zen" one week into being hired... please don't do that). But, we are entitled to be treated as humans - with fair workloads and pay, empathy, consideration for our mental and emotional well-being, and without abusive leadership, unrealistic expectations, or discrimination. We shouldn't come home crying on a weekly basis or go to bed unable to sleep due to the stress still weighing on our chests. We deserve better than the need to resist self-advocacy out of fear of retaliation from higher-ups. The scary thing is, some of us do. And if you don't, maybe you have.

I once had a supervisor who, for whatever reason, picked me apart on a daily basis and did nothing to help me succeed in meeting her expectations. As an intern, I wanted nothing more than her approval but seemed to mess up with every breath I took. I sobbed on my commutes home. I was overcome with a deep feeling of dread every morning (and night before) I had to walk into that building. Just thinking about it, I can feel the muscles in my back tighten. Walking on eggshells almost every day only to go straight to my waitressing job then go home and write papers left me with unbearable anxiety. At the end of the year, when she went behind my back and completely altered the evaluation we reviewed together before submitting it to my university (and not in a flattering way), I finally realized that I wasn't the problem. At least not entirely. 

My confidence was redeemed after I graduated and landed my first 9-5 job in the social work field. I felt respected and supported in my role. I had supervisors I could be open with. I got a raise every six months. I never had to put on a mask (okay, except the one called imposter syndrome, but that's for another day). 

In a field with incredibly high turnover and burnout rates due to being underpaid and under-appreciated, I was fortunate to have the latter experience. I now know how much my work history and clinical knowledge is worth, and I take it with me in every interview. Meanwhile, the former has given me an ability to empathize deeply with people who hate their jobs. We spend way too much time there to be miserable, and my heart sinks for those who feel as if they don't have another option. 

I don't know what type of role you find yourself in as you read this. You might be a CEO sitting in a comfortable chair, looking out the big windows of your corner office. You might be the intern, feeling cold because you forgot your sweater, twiddling your thumbs in front of an idle screen because once again your field supervisor has forgotten you exist. Or maybe you're fortunate enough to work for yourself. Regardless, there's two things we need to be doing to better our work culture, for ourselves, those we serve, and those we serve with:

1. Advocate for yourself: take the mental health day. Stay in tune with yourself so you know when you're burning out. Ask for more or less work. Set boundaries from day one. Negotiate reasonable pay. Request support. Question why you don't have enough trainings on safety or harassment or diversity, or why your white, male counterpart who doesn't work nearly as hard makes more than you do. Report abusive coworkers. Put in your two week notice. Send an anonymous email with this TED talk to your boss.

2. Be someone who makes everyone else's day a little better. Grab a coffee for your coworker. Ask people how they're doing - how they're REALLY doing. Use empathy. Communicate effectively. Be the boss that listens. Give feedback honestly without tearing apart someone's self-esteem. Be positive. Don't be late for meetings. Don't be a flake. Show up. Aside from the coffee, none of it comes out of your paycheck.

If you're interested in tips on setting boundaries at work (and at home) and practicing active self-care (or want to know which country to consider moving to), check out this week's episode, "when work is not good" with Sean McCarthy of This Isn't Working podcast. 

I hope you're good, but I'll be here if you're not.

- MJ