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Breaking Up With Your Bad Job

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page K01

You know the type: Cute, smart, funny. A great catch by any measure. So what's she doing with him, you sniff, when even she knows she could do better.

Cut her some slack. Breaking up is hard to do, especially when it's with your employer.

Like any other kind of relationship, it can be difficult to know when it's time to move on from a job. For some workers, though, it moves to the unhealthiest of extremes. They stay even when it's obvious that all pretense of respect from their employer has long since disintegrated. They're addicted to their bad jobs.

Even months without pay hasn't been enough to push away one 23-year-old Boston architect, who asked that her name not be used because she's still not ready to let go. Right now, her boss still owes her pay from December and January. He says he'll pay her "soon."

It's not as if she doesn't have options. She turned down a good offer from another firm with a great salary and benefits to take this job. "They said at the time that if I ever changed my mind to come back to them right away," she said.

So why does she stay? She says she loves the work. "I draw stuff. I build models. I build scale models out of wood. I am literally job manager for two complete house renovations. I walk onto the site and order around a bunch of contractors. I design a little here and there, and I have tons of client meetings and am learning so much it amazes me sometimes."

Right. So they're not just neglecting to pay her; they're also grossly overworking her. I can see why she's so smitten.

It's usually not so extreme as months of missed paychecks. More often, it's just feeling stuck somewhere. You dread going to the office each day, and yet you dread the thought of not going even more.

According to a fact sheet created by Carnegie Mellon University's Student Affairs Office, these are the warning signs of an addictive relationship. (Of course, the list was intended to refer to toxic romantic ties, but trust me, it still applies.)

• "Even though you know the relationship is bad for you (and perhaps others have told you this), you take no effective steps to end it."

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