My brother is unhappy at work.
His colleague is a bully. He is overworked and not paid very well. He is lonely too, as a foreigner working in a mid-sized town in another country.
Also, he’s fresh out of university and this is his first job. As a foreigner doing an entry-level job, he feels he doesn’t have much “power” to demand better conditions.
He asked me what he should do.
I’ve been there. Multiple times in my life.
Terrible bosses, colleagues who bullied me, little appreciation for my work, people not taking my complaints seriously, etc.
I remember the time a boss called me to a room and told me that he’s putting me back on probation because my work was terrible. I protested that he never had a problem with my work before. I also pointed out that I received good feedback from clients before. He said, “Your work is bad and if clients liked it, you were just lucky.” I cried on the spot but he was dead set on putting me back on probation. HR was in the room but did not intervene.
Another time, another bad boss. This one was a micromanager who made life difficult for me. For example, he insisted that I should sit at my desk and not other parts of the office so often. Because I was new and he needed to see me work. On another occasion, he chided me by saying, “know your place.” When a colleague accused me of not paying attention during a meeting and said I should not be invited again, he agreed with her without hearing me out. Finally, three months after I started working there, he called me into a room. HR was there. He told me that he was letting go off me because I was not a good fit. I said some harsh words and stormed off. HR did not say much. She just asked if I wanted to leave at the end of the day or end of the week. I said that I would leave as soon as possible.
All these (and more) happened in my first few jobs out of university. I don’t know of anyone else who had such a rocky start to their career. I believe a lot of those unpleasant experiences contributed to the depression I’m still recovering from.
It sucks to work in a hostile work environment.
It sucks even more if you are new and inexperienced and just a small fry in a hostile work environment.
You can do all the right things: talk to the perpetrator, lodge a complaint with HR, work extra hard in order to prove yourself … But let’s face it, compared to the more experienced and valuable members of the company, you’re expendable. Both the above-mentioned nasty bosses are still working in the same places. As far as I know, they were never penalised for being bad bosses.
There’s very little you can do to stand up for yourself. Or is there?
This was what I told my brother:
You need to set an end date to your misery. There must be an end date, otherwise you will become stuck where you are and too afraid of what’s out there. You will also grow resentful, depressed, and bitter. So, decide on when exactly you would leave your bad situation. Tell yourself something like, “I will stay here for a year and then move on. In the meantime, I will empower myself by honing my skills and learning as much as possible. By the time I leave, I would be well-prepared to seize better opportunities.”
The point is, no one is truly powerless. You still have the power to leave a shitty job. The company does not “own” you. Slavery is illegal. You have the power to walk away and find some other place that deserves you. Stand up for yourself and leave on your own terms.
I remember the day I resigned from that place where my boss put me back on probation. I had been so stressed, to the point where I got such a terrible eczema flare up that I had to go to the hospital. But I had a plan. I told myself that I would resign before the probation ended. I could not care less about whether I passed the probation or not. I never believed I deserved to be put back on probation. Three days before probation ended, I handed in my letter of resignation. The company had no reason to refuse. I felt light after I resigned, like a heavy load was lifted off my shoulders. More importantly, I felt empowered for the first time in a long while. I chose to walk out on my own terms, and it felt so good.
As for that other job with the micromanager boss?
You could say I was fired from that one, but I did choose to leave on the day I was fired (a Monday), instead of waiting till end of the week. But it was a good thing I got fired from that place as soon as possible. A few years after I left, I met with a good friend of mine who works at one of the hottest startups in Singapore. She told me an ex-colleague of mine, who reported to the same micromanager boss as I did years ago. That lady recently left after working under that boss for about five years, and joined the startup where my friend works. She is not doing well at the startup. I listened in astonishment as my friend told me how passive she was at work, how she couldn’t accomplish anything without extensive instructions and handholding. My friend and her colleagues were so frustrated working with her. I told my friend that I didn’t recall her being like that back when she and I worked together. But I could see why she turned out that way. This could be the impact of working under a controlling boss for years, a boss who demanded that I “know my place”. I was not as obedient as he liked so he fired me. Good thing he did, or else I would have ended up like my ex-colleague.
I reaffirmed to myself that I would never allow anyone to bully me into submission, ever.