Thursday, March 2, 2017

Does anyone really care?

Career advice.

Several months ago, I was reading (what I guess you would call) an inspirational piece about reaching your goals.  The author stated that you and you alone are the only person who cares about your goals and dreams and if you want to reach those goals or make those dreams come true, you and you alone are the only person who can make that happen.  Okay, I understand why the author feels this way.  Mostly.  But doesn't it seem a little, I don't know, cruel to say that no one cares about my goals and dreams.  No one?  Not one single person?

I started thinking about this in terms of my dreams and goals and went back to when I was working because right now I don't even know what my goals are and sometimes my dreams are a little out there so I don't really expect anyone else to "care."  I am of the opinion that there are people who do care, maybe not as deeply as I care (or cared), but still.  When it comes to career aspirations, I think you can count on the following to care "almost" as much as you:
  • Supportive partner (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.)
  • Anyone you work with who would be negatively impacted if you jumped ship  

I do agree with the author's take-away that if you want something, you need to make it happen.  While others may care, they won't be doing the heavy lifting for you.  A supportive husband will understand why you have to stay at the office, but you are the one doing the work which will get you that promotion.  But here's the thing:  It's easy for someone who has reached a certain level of success to give out this advice.  There are folks out there busting their butts day in and day out and still they don't succeed and it can't be blamed upon lack of trying or expecting others to make it happen.  Sometimes that's just life.

So I wanted to share a bit of a personal story from my working days.  Interestingly, when mulling over that inspirational article, I kept pulling up my past, not the future.  I worked for my previous employer for eight years.  This is an extremely large organization which many viewed as top heavy.  In other words, there are a disproportionate number people in upper management.  There was also a clear divide in promotions.  It was easier to get promoted at a lower level or in middle management, but many hit a wall in that jump to upper management.  In several cases, this happened because there were already too many people with that title.  Sometimes it was simply office politics.  It wasn't unusual for those with important roles to be stuck under that divide for ten years.

Remember how I told you the story about the most difficult person to work for?  J.  Our group had been restructured and I had "sort of" been promoted but there was no monetary gain or title change in that promotion.  For political reasons, there was no one to complain to.  Not even HR.  At that point, I had decided to stay until the first of my large bonuses paid out.  But then, to my benefit, J and the rest of the upper management of our group was pushed out (yay!) but I (and a friend) had been set up to stay where we were (boo!).  Months prior to the collapse of the reign of terror, J hired a woman at the level above me who not only had less experience but it wasn't even the correct type of experience.  You really needed to have a good handle on individual tax rules and this woman was strictly C corp.  But that's what J did - she hired people without the proper experience so they would have to rely on her.  She moved me and my friend to report to this woman, which was an absolute slap in the face.  I believe this was her way of trying to push me out the door.  She wanted to rid the group of anyone she hadn't hired.  Plus, I made her uncomfortable.      

A few months after J left, my new "boss" left as well.  There's a whole different back story there that I'm not going to retell but trust me when I tell you that this place could have been a reality TV show.  So now the temporary keeper of our group, a man who used to be a tax person but had moved to the business side, tells me that he's not going to fill that position.  That he believes in promoting from within and he knows I'm already responsible for that role already.  This is announced at a meeting in front of the entire group.

I never received a title change or a pay increase.  (I wasn't the only one.)

At that point, I was beyond burnt out.  I just wanted to cruise down Easy Street.  For political reasons, there was still no one to complain to.  I knew what I would be told anyway - that a temporary head of our group was not going to promote me up over that imaginary line.  He's only making short term decisions.  Most people in my position would have walked out but I had to think about my end game.  That's when Rich and I began discussing the possibility of me retiring.  Our financial situation had turned and we had started to pay down debt.  With future guaranteed bonuses lined up, it didn't make sense to search for a new job.  So I stayed.  A new head of Tax was brought in.  A really nice guy but again, he's not going to walk in the door and hand out big promotions without accessing the situation.  When I gave him my notice, he had been overseeing the group for a year.    

What really left a bad taste in my mouth was the fact that they had to hire in my replacement at that higher level, the level I was never promoted to.  I worked all those years with less pay and without that important title.  Most companies would question why a title change was required in hiring a replacement, but this organization is so big, it's easy to sweep that under the rug.  A friend of mine who I've worked with in the past, came into the group as I was on my way out.  She told me that I hadn't been promoted all those years because there hadn't been anyone there to support me. I should mention that during all the turnover and turmoil, there were other people promoted for BS political reasons.  When people outside of your group are shocked to hear of a promotion, you know you are correct in believing that it happened for the wrong reasons.  

In the time between announcing my retirement and my last day, there were several different meetings regarding turning over responsibilities, etc.  I said to a friend of mine, who was also a co-worker, "Don't you think that if I really enjoyed what I was doing here, that I would try to find a way to make it work."  It was so easy for everyone to hear the word "retire" and not give any thought as to why a high performer who should be advancing in her career was walking away from it.

Looking back or even simply reading this, it may not seem like I pushed hard enough, but this is only one tiny piece of the whole story.  It would be difficult for me to detail eight years worth of events.  I eventually did give up though and sometimes it feels like I gave up on myself and not just a broken system and crazy people.  It still bothers me.  (Character flaw - I have a hard time letting go of things.)  But you can't change the past - you can only learn from it.


BreezieGirl said...

Reading this felt like I was reading my own career story...

I know when I leave here, the person after me will get a pay raise because there's no way they can get someone to do what I do for the pay I make. They'd likely get the same title because I did finally get a new title last year. I thought it was just a non-profit problem, but it seems it happens everywhere.

Jojo said...

My first job having left Uni was in finance. Green behind the ears, I found it and office politics bruising and brutal. I wasn't prepared to cosy up to the "right" people or say "yes" just because that's what they were only prepared to hear. Then, children came along and I took a break. Starting afresh, I became a Montessori Nursery school teacher: and it was clear that office politics start as early as the nursery school playground and classroom. In these mini people, you could see the adults they'd become - the movers and shakers, the manipulators, the yes and no people. Even in nursery school there were those who rose to the top of the tree not necessarily through merit, but by other means. Another hard read Sarah - it takes immense bravery to be so honest.

Amber Gregory said...

I work at a large public university, and have been there for 10.5 years. I've been at the same job title since 2008, though in 4 different positions during that time. No matter how much I try to move up, office politics prevents me from doing so. I am not the type of person who tries to "fit in" or conform if I do not see the value in doing so. I work hard and I am really good at what I do. I learn fast and I have a lot to offer. All the same, it seems people here are more interested in having someone who conforms, than having a high performer who is happy. It's totally ridiculous considering how "open" and "tolerant" everyone purports to be. I'm now actively trying to leave, but it's taken a long time and a lot of abuse for me to reach this point.

Melanie said...

I once received a promotion with a pay rate that was well below what two other men were making in the same position. When I questioned it, I was told that they tried to be careful about bumping people up too much because they didn't want the person to get used to the lifestyle the new pay rate afforded in case it didn't work out and also one of the other men with the higher salary had a wife who didn't work and 3 kids and I had no kids at the time.

Corporate America - gotta love it.