You did a bang up job interviewing and landed a job you thought might be fairly good. Perhaps it wasn’t all the things you had hoped for, but it looked good enough to accept. Now that you’ve been on the job a few months and past the dust-settling period, you’ve discovered you’ve gotten yourself in a bad movie. The place of business is the one with the worst track record, the person in charge was put there on a performance warning (penalty box, but with no way to win) and the HR person weekly flogs you and your peers. This place is a complete dysfunction.
While your first thought is to run screaming for your life to find another job, you know it took you ages to find this one – so you’re stuck there for countless months or even longer. What can you do?
Unless you are a trust-fund baby, don’t quit your job until you have a new one. But job searching may be difficult now because of how this will look on your resume. You are probably looking at toughing this out for at least a year to look legitimate on the resume, but here are some tips to help you endure the situation:
“Play” to each person’s issues. You have to pay attention to the strengths and ego of the involved hierarchy. As an example, if you have a manager who is fearful of getting fired and afraid to make decisions (or simply poor at leadership), you have a couple of choices:
- Slowly work your way up to making big decisions by making the small ones and “informing” the frightened manager.
- Engage the manager in a conversation about boundary conditions of things they feel ok doing and work within that set of parameters.
You have to figure out how each key player functions, what dictates their behavior and how to best adapt your work style to them. This may not be how you’d like things to work, but you can either add to a bad working group or be somewhat of a high point.
Document agreements. I know this sounds like a pain but in a dysfunctional setting it’s good to have a trail of documents or emails to refer back to. It will be difficult to get flogged for a poor memory or moving targets when you do simply sit down and reiterate conversations, agreements and decisions.
Don’t expect to do great things. If your group is dysfunctional, the normal rules for growth don’t apply. You’re in survival mode so spend your energy simply figuring out the most effective ways of interacting and performing. You will learn a great deal in how to adapt your work style even in these conditions.
There is still an alpha dog. In a dysfunctional setting, there will still be someone who assumes the role of the alpha dog or person who everyone needs to be accountable to. Of course, when that isn’t the person in charge, you do have high potential for conflicting direction. Running amok of the alpha will/can make your life miserable; which means your best approach is to create an alliance with them. It may take some time and it could make you feel smarmy, but the closer you work with an alpha, the better your ability to be effective.
Be the positive one. The other people have been in the miserable situation longer than you have. They are probably far unhappier than you despite your waking up in a new, bad job. If you decide to cop a strong positive outlook while you’re at work, you will actually be happier; and it’s likely to be somewhat contagious. It does have its benefits.
Have a life. If you have other things going well in your non-work life, it will help balance this situation. This can be the thing that will help you endure for a year.
Find something good. Even in the worst situations you can still find a few things that work well or that you can appreciate. Find those things and focus your time and energy on them.
While life is too short to have an unhappy work-life, sometimes due to circumstances, you simply have to “grin and bear it” for a period of time. Sooner or later many people do find themselves in this type of situation. Learning the fine art of survival is as much a skill as learning new software.