Everything dies, baby, that's a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back. ~ Springsteen.
After seven extremely long years of bottling my feelings about my work environment, I'm taking the risk of writing about why I am unhappy at my job, why I need to find a new one, and why it's been incredibly difficult for me to do so.
Before accepting my current position, I worked as a kitchen designer for a big-box retailer. For seven years, I wore a bright orange apron over my work uniform of jeans and a polo shirt. I enjoyed working with most customers. There was a creative challenge to improve the existing floor plan while appealing to my customer's style which I had to delicately unearth with open-ended questions about their cooking habits, family life, and entertaining needs. Do your kids tend to do their homework on this existing breakfast bar? Oh, I like the Ravens hat, sir! Will you be hosting a Super Bowl party next year? Your sailboat sounds fantastic. Would you like to incorporate some white rope molding to go with the nautical theme that you love? I found it easy to talk to my customers. I was good at designing kitchens. I am not a salesperson. I couldn't sell you a kitchen unless you wanted to buy one. But if you wanted to buy one, I could hook you up with a great floor plan that matched both your budget and your dreams. I went above and beyond to help my customers because I wanted them to be happy with my work. I worked with other departments to help my customers select flooring, kitchen, bath, and lighting fixtures, paint swatches, and more. I really like making people happy. Having customers invite me to their homes to enjoy a cup of tea in their dream kitchen that I helped create? What a thing of beauty for my people-pleasing heart. My supervisors appreciated my work and they told me so with merit rewards, raises, and words.
It wasn't all wonderful, of course. Working in retail wears on you after a while. The erratic hours that always included weekends meant missing a lot of fun and important events with friends and family. Eventually, during my time there, I decided to return to school. After earning a BA in American Studies, I searched for a job that would allow me to wear nice work clothes in a clean office where I could hang my newly framed degree. I got married and found a job in finance. During this time, my husband and I started to care for his ailing grandmother. The stress of the long commute and the great responsibility at home was too much. I wanted something, anything, closer to home. I accepted my current position thinking that I would learn a lot about Human Resources. Surely I will grow in this entry-level position since there is so much to learn about in this field. I was excited. I had no reason to be.
It did not take long to see or feel the stark difference between the customer-service centered retail world and this quasi-government bizzaro town. I smiled and said hello to people in the hallway. Some said hello, but I was struck by how many people kept their eyes fixed to the floor or grumbled a response to my greeting. Being the kind of person who takes such things personally, I wondered if they were unfriendly for a reason, or just miserable humans. Were they afraid I would try to keep them in the hallway for a half hour to chat about last night's Grey's Anatomy or Real Housewives? Good God, I don't want that either. I just want to see friendly faces while I'm earning a paycheck to support the people I love and would prefer to be with. Let's make these 40 hours of forced togetherness as pleasant as possible.
Meanwhile, back in my office...
As I was learning my new responsibilities, I asked questions to the girl who I worked with the most. Paperwork came down with very ambiguous information. It was not filled out correctly, but I was told that this person is never held accountable. My office mate called the person who sent the paperwork. By the end of the phone call, none of her questions were answered. I asked how we were supposed to know what to do next without the critical pieces to our puzzle. She shrugged her shoulders. I'm not really sure what ever happened to that particular transaction. A piece of paper will travel to several desks before being filed away. It's not the most efficient system but it's made even worse when various people involved are unapproachable and rude. Some employees would tell me about such issues with their supervisors or coworkers, but I never let on that I felt the same in my position. I suggested that they take their concerns to the director of Human Resources because I was a lowly Assistant without any power or authority to help them. I'm not sure if they ever meet with the Director, but I do see their names again when their resignation letters land on my desk as a cue to advertise their former job. They will receive an exit interview in the mail. Some will return it, but I'm not sure what percentage actually do. I wish we asked these questions before these downtrodden employees lose any hope of improving their work situations. I am not included in the proverbial "we" though, so my wishes mean nothing. Like most work places, my company has deep-rooted political issues that would require a massive undertaking to uncover and resolve. I have no interest in going there. I would just like to work in a place that understands that an employee's job satisfaction has everything to do with an employee's productivity.
The same cast of characters inhabit every work place, I'm sure. The key difference between a bearable work environment and an unbearable work environment is the boss's management style. One day, I approached my manager with a problem. I explained that I was trying to work with someone who was very difficult to work with. She wouldn't share her knowledge, but was quick to point out errors that could have been prevented had she just cooperated in the first place. My boss chuckled and said, "Yes. She is difficult. Ha!" There was no resolution. She was clearly aware that this person was a problem, but she also decided that the problem wasn't hers.
For a long time, my only motivation was to not be hassled. There are no rewards for a job well done. There are no opportunities to learn and grow, despite the enthusiasm I expressed for doing so when I first began. After seven years, I make about $2 an hour more than when I started. I am no more qualified for any other HR position than when I first began. The incredible micromanaging and favoritism in some departments makes employees feel belittled and untrustworthy. After years of feeling scrutinized for every misstep and feeling as though nothing is ever right, my meager motivation to just not be hassled has fallen away. I just don't care anymore. My people-pleasing heart knows that there is nothing that I can do to simultaneously feel satisfied with my job and make my coworkers/supervisor happy. I no longer care about making them happy. My amiable spirit is broken.
I don't care anymore. It is heartbreaking ambivalence. Like many working parents, I have a photo of my child on my laptop background screen. I used to look at that photo and think, I am going to try my best today, not for my boss, not for my coworkers, but for this little girl. I am going to focus and do my best until something better comes along. It kills me every time I look at my child's beautiful face, to know that I am spending time away from her doing something that doesn't matter to me or anyone else. I do my job with a heavy heart because it isn't making anyone happy. And maybe I need therapy since I seem to thrive on making people happy, but there sure seems to be enough people hellbent on doing the opposite.
I am not sure what I want to do for the rest of my working years, but I know that I want to put my heart into it. I know that I am capable of more. I want to use my brains and creativity in exchange for a proudly earned paycheck. I need some guidance and wisdom or a big glaring neon sign to tell me which path to pursue. I have had a couple of offers, but I know that they weren't the right fit for me either, and I don't want to make the same mistake I made seven years ago of accepting something, anything, just to escape. While I would love to do something meaningful, I don't believe that I am "above" any kind of work. I considered going back to the world of retail just to have that mostly pleasant interaction with other humans, but my husband already works crazy hours. As the primary caretaker of our daughter, I cannot work an unpredictable retail schedule anymore.
Deciding to publish this entry is risky, but staying silent and stuck isn't really working for me, either. It was very therapeutic to write all of this. I may revisit this space to brainstorm future possibilities. I will never quit my job. I can't afford it. I will show up tomorrow. I will stare at my daughter's picture and my heart will ache to be away from her joyful little spirit. How can I teach my daughter that she can be anything if I am nothing? I will look up graduate school programs. I will send an application or two. And then I will do my best until something better comes along.