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Bidding Farewell to That Miserable Job

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page K01

Many readers appear to have seen themselves in a column two weeks ago about breaking up with bad jobs.

For some, the discussion was a vindication of a decision they had made years ago to walk away from an awful job. Others saw a reflection of their current situation and said the article was the push they needed to finally make a break.

Brian, a D.C. financial analyst who spoke on condition that his last name not be used, said he knew his former job was making him miserable. "Cursing at the mirror every morning became my daily exercise."

Like most relationships, it started off upbeat. "My boss made lots of promises, instilling an air of confidence with my decision to join this company. He implied that the company was in the midst of making some organizational changes that would improve my job," Brian wrote in an e-mail. Because of his previous experience in a similar position, he was told, he was hired primarily to train the other employees.

It went downhill from there. Turnover was high, and company morale was in the gutter. As his employees quit, he was expected to replace them. "I began to hate myself for accepting this position," said Brian, 40.

He kept working, though, putting in excruciatingly long hours and setting company records. He was not rewarded. "I received little recognition from a boss who believed in public humiliation and private praise."

Why didn't he just leave? "I felt trapped on the job. I had no energy to search for a new job yet felt that I 'had' to be part of the workforce and make some contribution to society. Similar to other dysfunctional relationships, the one with my employer was a bad match from the start, but I had been desperate. It became a choice between my job and my sanity. After seven months of pure torture, I accepted the fact that they were not going to follow through on their promises; I knew I had done my best and that I had to leave."

He wrote, "It was as if a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I felt so incredible when I told my boss, 'I quit.' "

His boss tried to talk him into staying, offering to move him to a different division or to assist in employee development (uh-oh, we've heard that before). But Brian said that his bargaining time had passed and that he wanted to make a swift break.

Brian says he has no regrets, even though he didn't have another job lined up when he walked out the door. He made ends meet as a temp for six months before being hired by his current employer, for whom he has nothing but praise. (Of course, it's not hard to look great coming on the tail of that other job.) "The only question I have . . . in hindsight is, what took me so long?"

Bill, a software engineer who spoke on condition that his last name not be used, said he identified with the Boston architect whose employer didn't pay her regularly. He and his co-workers at a troubled telecommunications company have also endured sporadic pay days. His employer eventually filed for bankruptcy protection. When it emerged from restructuring, the workers all lost their vacation time and took 10 percent pay cuts. He says they're a month behind on payroll again.

And yet, he's still there, partly because of fear. "We're in the telecommunications industry, and while a good portion of our co-workers have found other jobs, the job market has only recently started to pick up for software engineers. Without a security clearance, many workers are effectively being shut out of the job market," he said. Also, the company kept up employees' medical insurance, he said, "which is a major reason for most people to keep their hopes up."

Karen, a management consultant in Connecticut who spoke on condition that her last name not be used, said she found it "therapeutic" to discover that she wasn't the only one to get addicted to a bad job. "I too am 'cute, smart and funny' (if I may say so), and I was locked into a bad relationship with my previous job," she wrote. "I loved the work itself and my colleagues; I worked very hard to get along with and please the psycho boss. Unfortunately . . . my self-esteem took such a beating in the three years I was there that I didn't have the wherewithal to start a job search."

Karen, 41, wishes she could say she quit. Instead, eventually she was fired. "The situation could not have been much sadder."

Finally, for others, the article served as a catalyst for change. "I have been in this horrible job for over a year," wrote Judith, 42, a D.C. newsletter editor who also spoke on condition that her last name not be used. "I took it after temping, out of desperation. I couldn't put my finger on how I felt until I read your article. . . . I cut it out and put it in my planner. I need the support as I make the move to someplace else."

You've got it, sister.

Join Mary Ellen Slayter at 2 p.m. April 1 for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/jobs/careertrack. E-mail her at slayterme@washpost.com.

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