Dear Work, It’s Over. And It’s Not Me – It’s You

Job cry

by Emily Eades |
Published on

You’d dump a man if he he made you feel this bad, so why put up with it at the office?

Picture the scene: it’s Tuesday night, you and a friend detour for ‘just one quick glass of wine’ after work. Several non-quick and non-just-one wines later and conversation darts from upset to frustration to anger. You cover guilt trips, cryptic emails, broken promises and confrontational behaviour. Sentences are punctuated with phrases like ‘I’m so unhappy’ and ‘I feel like I’m going insane’.

If you were complaining about your partner, the advice would be simple: it’s not OK, you have to end the relationship. Except you’re not, you’re talking about work – and because we depend on work for survival (or so it can seem), recognising when an environment is dysfunctional and when you should get out can be difficult. Finding the courage and a game plan to actually make walking away possible seems like another thing entirely.

My first job was at a digital creative agency. Each day at 11am the directors would walk in, bleary-eyed, barking orders at the team. The atmosphere was awful and their requests beyond acceptable. We all knew the behaviour was unprofessional, but it wasn’t until someone got punched in a meeting – yes, really – that people understood their boundaries had been well and truly crossed. Thankfully, by then, I was safely ensconced in a new role elsewhere.

Fast-forward 15 years to a more recent job working for a fashion brand and there I was again – different office, same situation. Tired and overworked, our team was constantly reminded that we ‘weren’t doing enough’. Lack of strategy and communication from management meant long hours were de rigueur. To top it off, our boss was a whirlwind. Her emails were tirades of aggression, devoid of punctuation. Minutes after sending, she’d inevitably creep to your desk audibly gushing praise; like an abusive boyfriend riddled with sudden – but temporary – guilt. Professionalism was null and void and crying at your desk was the norm. For a long time, I had no idea what to do – it was like I was stuck in a dysfunctional relationship that I couldn’t leave.

And it would seem I’m not alone. My friend Tessa recently left her role as head of press at a global retail company having had similar issues: ‘The lack of willingness to invest any money in people, or even support us, was exhausting. Even toilet roll was kept in short supply to save us from going over budget.’ It was then Tessa finally realised she was in a toxic relationship. ‘My boss openly criticised my work in front of the office,’ she explains. ‘She rarely offered praise and made me feel like I was being needy if

I ever asked for support. I had to get out.’

While pressure and anxiety in the workplace are common, there are solutions. Career psychologist Nimita Shah works with people ‘to get them unstuck and move towards something more meaningful’. She says she’s seeing more and more cases of ‘career paralysis’ – where people feel deeply unhappy but just don’t know how to make a change.

It’s not just a fear of failure from a personal perspective that stops us leaving. In a social media world, we’re hemmed in by how transparent our CVs suddenly are to the world – and how hard it is to fudge a short stint in a company if it doesn’t work out. ‘There’s an enormous sense of pressure to make the right choice, the stakes can feel very high,’ says Shah. But she still suggests we might want to ‘try a career on like a dress’ and not associate feelings of failure with one that doesn’t fit us correctly. ‘When we buy a house, we have a list of criteria and we select a house based on that list,’ she says. ‘But with a job, we let ourselves be defined by the parameters set out to us. It can skew our view of our careers and even how we see ourselves.’

That sense of how we view ourselves is one of the most pertinent aspects of staying in a job when it’s not making us happy. For most of us, working full-time means our job takes up more time than our social or home lives. How we define ourselves personally is so often inextricably linked to what we do professionally that walking away can feel like leaving a part of our personality behind. But if this big part of our lives isn’t working out, that’s exactly why it’s important to break away when it’s clearly not making us happy.

As for me? I got to a point where my Sunday night dread

cut deeper than the usual ‘Antiques Roadshow fear’ that my friends would talk about at the end of the weekend. After many failed attempts to solve the issues at work, I realised my work environment was unlikely to change,so I needed to change instead. After much soul-searching, I resigned and have opted

to go freelance instead. And while it’s been an emotional and financial roller coaster finding my feet without the structure of the nine-to-five and monthly wages, I’m finally finding a work/life balance I love – away from the office politics. So next time you find yourself four Sauvignons down on a Tuesday, upset and dreading your week at work, ask yourself whether maybe it’s time to dump that dysfunctional job for good.

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