I have hesitated to write this, because I am not looking for advice on any of this. Nor am I looking for sympathy. I just want to get it out of my system, to use this space as a purge of some very negative feelings and anxiety I’ve been struggling with for months now.
I struggle at work.
Not from the actual workload or subject matter, which I think I handle very well, excel at, and enjoy (relatively speaking.)
I struggle with all the personal conflict and office politics that are so ingrained in the agency I work for that it is impossible to avoid or escape. Daily, I have to deal with people who are unable or unwilling to do their job accurately; people who spend less time working each day than they do socializing or handling their personal affairs; people who are miserable that there are no promotional opportunities for them; people who cannot handle any kind of corrective guidance or constructive criticism of any kind; people who hate their jobs/life/self and take it out on me and the people around them, daily. There is almost no apparent work ethic, integrity, professionalism, or ambition among these people, and despite all my efforts to lead by example, mentor, inspire, cajole, and reprimand, it has been a complete waste of time. In fact, I am (not so quietly) mocked, on occasion, for working hard and adhering to agency policy (i.e. I start work as soon as I get to the office and work all day until I leave; I don’t use my cell phone unless I’m on a break; I complete all mandatory training early; oh, and I am well liked by my superiors.)
Unfortunately, these are the truths and facts about my workplace and agency:
It is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to fire or demote someone. While technically possible, it involves copious amount of documentation, time, effort and cooperation with co-workers, management, unions and human resources to even begin the process, let alone have a successful outcome. It would be a full-time job to make it happen, over a long period of time, and would mean committing to a daily regimen of conflict. The system is set up to dissuade anyone from attempting it, and when its manager vs subordinate, the assumption is management is wrong until proven otherwise. Bottom line, it’s just not worth it. While I can “counsel” and write up memos, it does absolutely nothing, other than anger the employee. No one “learns” from it, or changes their attitude or habits, because they know it means nothing and nothing can happen to them. They can’t lose their jobs or pay, and all they have to do is allege unfair treatment and suddenly I’m the guilty party. And, the truth is, if they were good employees who wanted to do better, I probably wouldn’t be counseling them in the first place.
Conversely, it is also practically impossible to promote someone or give them a raise, even if they’ve earned it, unless someone quits, retires, or moves to another job; and, even then, there are multiple factors that may interfere with giving the job to someone who deserves it and can and will do the work. Promotions are based on exams, which are only given sporadically, and require people to be “reachable.” This means, even if someone scored high on an exam, excels at their job, and has been doing similar work for however long, if enough people score higher than they did on the exam and are, therefore, higher on the list, I may have to offer the job to someone from outside my unit who has no experience or familiarity with the work my unit does, solely because they scored higher on a generic exam that is not applicable to the work we do.
All of this weighs heavily on me, as I take my job responsibilities very seriously, including my role as manager. Although I inherited all these “bad” people when I accepted my current position, I tried hard to change the course of our unit by speaking with each of them individually, starting with a clean slate, and offering them a chance to make a decision to be part of a stronger, more cohesive unit, by cooperating, doing their job to the best of their ability, seeking assistance or supplemental training as needed, and being part of discussions on how we could reorganize our work and change our processes and procedures to make the office more efficient, the workload more equitable, and to make all of our jobs better for ourselves and each other. My pitch was simple – we are all people trying to do the best job we can, and we all need to be here, so why not do what we can to make it as positive an experience and workplace as possible.
I love training, mentoring, managing work flow, and doing what I can to improve the work process. I love being part of a team of people who genuinely want to do a good job, even if they need help doing it. However, I HATE dealing with difficult, mean, or aggressive employees (and these type of people, in general.) If I could work alone, in an office or dark corner, plugging away at work and never have to deal with other people or be responsible for anybody else’s work, I would be so much more content and happy, regardless of the actual work.
For the record, I am not a “corporate shill.” I am not trying to convince anyone this agency, unit, or job, is better than it is (although, to be fair, we all are paid well, and reap great benefits, for what we do.) What I am trying to do is help everyone understand that we do have the ability to change our perspective, have a positive attitude, find fulfillment in a job well done, and feel part of a team. We can try to fix the things we don’t like, to some degree, and we can (should) all agree that getting along with each other (we don’t have to be friends but, for now, we do have to be co-workers,) being knowledgeable in our work, managing and handling our workflow, completing tasks, and meeting the requirements of our job will make for a less stressful workplace and a better experience, all around, for all of us. Plus, it’s what we’re PAID to do. I follow the philosophy that you “catch more flies with honey than vinegar” and try hard to remain professional, respectful, kind, thoughtful, and polite in all my interactions with my staff, but I’m human and can only hold up so long under the daily, constant barrage of negativity before I crack a little and my “because I’m the boss and I said so” voice comes out. (FYI: that approach almost never works. It usually has the opposite effect.)
On top of all the managing and mentoring I (try to) do, I have my own work and projects to complete. It is daunting, at best, and overwhelming, at worst. I often feel like Sisyphus, rolling the heavy rock up the hill each day, only to have to start over every morning, and never getting anywhere. It frustrates, angers, disappoints, and exhausts me, and there are days when I just can’t imagine surviving another 7 years in this toxic environment.
Quitting is not a realistic option for me, although I’ve been very tempted, at times. Finding another job is not a realistic option for me, although I do look. (Just trust me on these two things, please. I’ve explored every option thoroughly and the risks outweigh the benefits; I’d just be trading in one set of problems for another.) So, yes, I do need to stick it out for the remaining 2,607 days until I can retire.
There’s always the possibility (no matter how unlikely) that some of these people may retire or obtain positions elsewhere, someday. And there is always the possibility that a position will open in another unit or department that I can apply for (although these issues are not unique to my unit, so I don’t know what the odds are that I’d be able to find a job within this agency that doesn’t employee at least one person like the ones I’ve described.)
Yes, this does all sound very dismal.
My only viable option, for now, is to utilize what coping mechanisms I can to get me through the day. I close my eyes and meditate at my desk for 5 minutes each morning before the first staff person arrives. I take deep breaths whenever I feel my anxiety rising. I remind myself about the positive benefits of the job (salary, benefits, time off, accommodation, retirement.) I use comparative rationalization (is that a thing?) to convince myself there are worse things than my job (being in prison, being homeless, contracting or battling a fatal illness, being tortured, eating beets) and I try to remind myself that this will all come to an end one day, one way or another.
While the light at the end of the tunnel seems so far away, at least I can see it. And that’ll have to be good enough, for now.
Thanks for letting me unpack all that.