So I have mentioned in some previous posts about how I don’t particularly love my job. I wanted to write a post about it as a way of venting, as I am at a point where I don’t really know what’s best for my future, career-wise. I appreciate that this is very ranty and long-winded, and I am sure people will fall asleep before they have read the whole post!
I won’t say exactly what I do, just that I work for a massive international organisation which has hundreds (maybe thousands) of huge international companies as clients. The hours are very long, particularly in my speciality, and when things are particularly busy I am expected to work through the night. This happens a few times a year, and will involve weeks (or sometimes months!) of working past midnight every day, working weekends and then stints of working through the night. When things are ‘normal’ I will work around 12 hours a day and when things are quiet I will
sit and pretend to work for around 10 hours (because the team will not approve of me saying “I’ve had two months of working 100 hour+ weeks and so this week I’m going to come in at 10am and leave at 4pm”). When I tell friends about the hours I have to work they either (1) don’t believe me and assume I’m exaggerating (I’m not); or (2) say “yes, but as a [insert title of my horrible job] you earn SO MUCH so you can’t complain” (I really don’t. The press will report how much one person at the top of their game in my speciality, working in London, will earn and people think I’m on this sort of money. I’m not even close! On the face of it I don’t earn a bad salary in comparison with many, but I have to work so hard for it and will earn less per hour than most of my friends in other jobs will!).
I think I sort of accidentally fell into this job because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and this seemed like a good starting place. Now that I’m in this profession, I think I’m on a treadmill and running so fast it’s difficult to step off, even if there’s a chance I will ultimately collapse and do myself a serious injury by trying to stay on the treadmill.
When I started out in this job, I was fresh out of university in the early days of the recession and there were very few jobs, graduate or otherwise. I had no commitments (I hadn’t met BT at this point) and didn’t care where in the world I worked. What I did have was a huge amount of debt (as all students do) and I was keen to pay this off as soon as possible.
I had gone to university wanting to be a psychologist, preferably a child/adolescent psychologist. Throughout my teenage years (well, from about 10 years old) I had suffered badly with anorexia, bulimia, self-harm and depression. Being a teenager had been awful and I wanted to do something to help children and teenagers in the future. Unfortunately a few years into my degree I decided I probably wasn’t smart enough to get into this profession. You needed all sorts of masters/postgrad qualifications and I doubted I would be good enough to get these. I was also terrified of how much these qualifications may cost, particularly if I ended up failing them. So rightly or wrongly I decided to give up on this career path.
My second chosen career was the Army, which I was heavily involved in while at university. This is a bit of an odd choice for me, given that I hate violence and war! What appealed to me about the Army was:
- I would not be sat at a desk all day. As I would be going in as an officer, there would be an element of ‘desk job’, but there would be a lot of time spent ‘in the field’ and doing physical training;
- I would get to experience many things I would not get to experience in other jobs (travel, the types of physical and mental training you need to do, the varied traditions of the British Army etc);
- it does a lot of good in a lot of places around the world. Unfortunately, aside from coverage of Iraq/Afghanistan, we tend to only hear the stories of when things have gone wrong or when soldiers have done terrible things. The Army does, however, run projects in third world countries and I would have loved to have been involved in this;
- on the whole, in my limited experience, the Army is a supportive environment. Of course there are exceptions to this, and it must be horrific for those who do not fit in or who are bullied, but during my involvement with the Army at university I really felt like I was part of a team and that my colleagues had my back. They certainly don’t in my current job, where people enjoy watching others trip up as (they feel) it makes them look better;
- the opportunities, professionally, if you have been an officer in the British Army are huge. It would have opened so many doors and possibly would have lead to some very interesting jobs; and
- financially, it is a smart move to join the Army. In the UK, if you sign up before you go to university they pay your tuition fees (or they did when I went). If you changed your mind when at university, all you needed to do was re-pay this money. When you join the Army there are all sorts of opportunities to gain further qualifications, for free. My friend was in Afghanistan until about a year ago. During this time she was able to do a large chunk of her distance learning degree, which she then finished when she got home. This is on top of the degree she already had. Additionally, although the salaries may seem fairly average, you get a lot of your food and accommodation paid for.
Anyway, I ultimately decided that the Army was not for me because:
- as mentioned, I am against all forms of violence. I don’t think this necessarily has to be a deal-breaker though, as there are many jobs in the Army where you are unlikely to be required to act in a violent manner; and
- I really need my alone time! I go crazy if I don’t get a bit of time each day to myself. In the Army you are around people 24/7, especially in the early days when you live in barracks. When on tour you will also have nowhere to escape to for 15 minutes P&Q! Although it sounds like a ridiculous reason, this was ultimately my main reason for not joining the Army.
So, just after university I wrote off becoming a psychologist and joining the army. I was therefore stuck for ideas as to what to do. I didn’t really know what I could do! Throughout school and university you learn about becoming a teacher/doctor/lawyer/dentist/vet/social worker/farmer (and a few others). You don’t learn about all the other types of jobs and how one job can lead to a slightly different job. In the end I went to several career fairs and presentations which were put on by the big organisations. I somehow really hit it off, without particularly trying, with the head of HR at the place where I ultimately got my first job (which was in the same field that I’m in now, but for a different organisation). Before I knew it, I’d done a job application, had a job interview and been given an internship in the space of a few weeks. I was then offered the job and was sent to London to do some further qualifications, funded by my new employer. I genuinely think that if I had funded this myself (as almost all students doing these qualifications did) I would have turned around and decided the job wasn’t for me.
Although I say I would not go down this path if I had to choose again, I am still incredibly grateful that my first employer gave me a chance and funded these qualifications. Whatever happens, I will always have these on my C.V. and I did not have to incur the £20,000+ it would have cost me to fund it myself (which I would never have been able to afford!). When I think about how much I dislike my job, I remember that many people (most people?) in my line of work feel the same and they’re still having to pay off the huge fees they had to pay in order to get into this job!
So for the first year or so of my career I actually really enjoyed my job. I secretly quite liked the late nights and working on the big projects because, at the end of it all, there was a huge sense of achievement. Sometimes things would be in the press (either business or mainstream) and it was always fun to read about it knowing exactly what was going on and the background etc. I also really liked the team that did this type of work at the place where I first worked. They were good fun and we would often have a laugh when we were stuck working together until 2am. There was also a huge canteen everyone would go to for dinner, and I’d enjoy letting my hair down for 15-20 minutes each night and having a laugh with colleagues! Towards the end of my time here, I did not particularly love the job. I was exhausted from the long hours and the team dynamic changed, but there were still quite a few positives about being there (lots of friends, good opportunities, decent pay etc).
A few years ago I had a to leave that job and move to my new job (a post for another day!). This place does exactly the same sort of work, but they have somehow managed to strip all fun out of it. I am still very junior and find that, with the exception of 2 people, nobody ever says thank you (or more accurately, nobody ever says thank you and means it. Sometimes people whisper “thanks” in a manner suggesting they are annoyed that they have to waste their breath speaking to you). It is a soul destroying environment where you work and work and work, and sacrifice so much of your private life, but you are never really rewarded (and I don’t just mean financially). You can spend hours or days or weeks working on something, think you have done a good job, then someone will say “In this 30 page document you have [painstakingly] produced you have completely missed the point in paragraph 6 on page 24. Go away and do it again”. You will not have a clue what they mean or what they want, and there is no real way of finding out. You therefore do something BATSHIT CRAZY like, you know, ask them (politely) what they want. Instead of guiding you they will say in an exasperated manner “Didn’t you learn about this on [qualification][previous project][internal training]?”. Well no, actually I didn’t, and that’s why I’m asking you to help me
you arrogant, self-important tosser.
So things have come to a head over the past few months and I can ultimately see things going very wrong if I don’t find a way to deal with things. Here are some particular highlights:
- How certain people have dealt with my medical absences. I say medical absences; all I had was 2 weeks following surgery (at the quietest time of year) and 2 afternoons ‘off’ for consultations/tests. In some ways I have actually been impressed, as I had thought they would be worse. For example, the big boss told me to take the time I need to get better and told me to take any time I need for consultations. I was quite surprised by this, although I’m sure it’s because he’s aware that things need to be handled in a certain way and they need to appear to be ‘looking after me’ from an HR perspective in case I ever bring a lawsuit, rather than genuinely being bothered about me. Although he was good with me, despite being ‘off sick’ certain people insisted on sending me work to do and one made me work until 2am on the day of one of my consultations, even though she knew this work did not need to be done at all (and if she thought it did, there was no reason why she couldn’t do it herself!). I was also sent a load of HR forms on the day I was going in for my operation (and was terrified) and was told to get them back asap. Although they did not know what the surgery was for, they knew that I was very worried about it. Could they not just leave me alone for a while to deal with this?
- I have been told by the consultant that I am too stressed. This was not said in a flippant way; she knows what she is talking about and there is evidence linking low progesterone levels (which I have) with high levels of stress. As such, she has told me that I need to find ways to sort my stress levels out. She did not say “quit your job” but she did say “it is not for me to make career decisions for you, but I can tell you that the career you are in now is having a huge impact on your health and I think it is the main reason you have not gotten pregnant yet”. Although she said this before my test results and BT’s test results came back, I am sure that she has a point. Obviously it is not really a possibility for me to just QUIT my job (more on this later!), but I have decided that I need to take positive steps and to do things to reduce my stress levels. With this in mind, since I came back to work and a few people asked how I was, I said “I am well and the operation was successful, but I am still not feeling great and need to do what I can to stay healthy. With this in mind, I will be making a real effort to work efficiently and leave at a sensible time and make sure I get to the gym and do things to keep myself healthy”. Obviously this has gone down like a cup of cold sick with the powers that be. I could understand it if I am coming in at 10am and leaving at 4pm, but I am not. I have a 4 hour daily commute and I am at my desk by 8:30am and have been leaving around 5:45-6:30pm. I will also fire off emails from my blackberry during this 4 hour commute. This is hardly slacking! When there is a genuine need for me to work later I will of course do this, but a lot of the time the people that are there until 10pm every single night are just being inefficient and unproductive. I genuinely believe that, excluding occasions where work is sent to us at 7/8/9/10pm and NEEDS to be done immediately, it is better to take breaks and clear your mind and go to the gym and come back motivated and efficient. When I am pulling the late nights for weeks at a time, my brain slows down and I make more mistakes. I am sure it is the same with others. Anyway, the upshot is I feel I am fighting a losing battle trying to work in a way that is best for my health and most efficient for an organisation, but they’re getting cross with me for the lack of ‘face time’ (which then increases my stress levels).
- So little time is spent doing the job I actually enjoy. We seem to be getting fewer decent projects, and when they come in there is a fight from the juniors to get them. For a while I was the golden girl and got everything and I really enjoyed it (although I’ll admit in hindsight that must have been crap for the others). Now I am out of favour, probably for daring to take 2 weeks off sick, and I am not getting any decent work. Instead I am being given the shit that nobody wants to do, and those below me are getting to do the good work (which is annoying because when I was at the bottom I sucked up all the shit work, so I think the juniors now should also have to do the shit work if it needs to be done). This means I do a worse job, because it is so hard to get motivated to do work that is completely uninspiring. I have tactfully mentioned this to the powers that be, yet all I get is more shit.
- There are a ridiculous number of pointless initiatives we are made to get involved in. These ultimately lead nowhere and get forgotten about, but by that point we will have been expected to invest 20, 30, 50+ hours in them. A lot of them are business development focussed, and I am poor in this area, so I take no enjoyment in doing them. I don’t mind working on this skill and getting involved in the schemes I think have merit, but instead there is a new pointless scheme every week and we are forced to get involved then berated for not having done enough actual work.
- There is no respect for free time and holidays. There is an expectation that, if need be, you will work through your weekends and holidays. Even if you had plans, like weddings or going abroad, you are expected to still handle work. Last week I had a long weekend to try and get on top of my poor health and started de-stressing. It should have been the perfect time, because I don’t have any urgent work. Instead, on the evening of my last day in the office, I was told that I needed to sort out the client Christmas party (which is a massive job), create the invitations and sort the guest lists etc. Oh, and they wanted this done with the week (of which I had booked 3 days as annual leave and there was a weekend). This was completely unreasonable and was designed to ensure I was still working while on holiday. There is no reason why they couldn’t have said “when you get back, could you please sort the Christmas party as a matter of priority?”.
So things kind of came to a head at the end of last week, when I came back from annual leave. Firstly, one of the bosses took me into a meeting room and asked me if I was ok as “a lot of people have commented on how upset and tired [I] look”. Erm, I have a 4 hour daily commute, I’m struggling with infertility and possibly going for IVF (if we’re even allowed to try IVF), I’ve recently had an operation, I am in the process of moving house where nobody is doing their job so I need to do everything, my husband is about to have a 30% pay cut so we will struggle to pay the mortgage on our new house and I’m suffering from really bad insomnia and depression so am actually struggling to even get out of bed in the morning. Yes, funnily enough I do feel a little bit tired. I mumbled something about still feeling poorly following my operation (true) and she said “oh, we’ll do what we can to help reduce the stress you’re under”. So what happens in the space of a few hours? I’m made to give a presentation to everyone (fine), but then (thinking that hurdle is over and I can get back to focusing on getting on top of my work and clearing my desk) I’m given homework (!) following this presentation (to be fair, the other juniors have too). This is going to require a lot of work, again for no real benefit/reward. Then I am told they need me to cover an all-day meeting in a city 4 hours away, which will mean a load of preparation and a long day out of the office and I’ll get back exhausted and be expected to catch up on my actual work (so much for doing what they can to reduce the stress!). Then yesterday, a Saturday, we received an email saying we all need to get involved in yet another BD initiative and it’s a “competition”. FFS. At the end of all of this, when it comes to my appraisal, they will pull me up on having done too few projects. If I comment that I have been asking and that all I have been given is the crap, they’ll mark down that I have been argumentative. I genuinely cannot win.
So on Thursday afternoon I went home sick and I asked to work from home on Friday as I was sick. I don’t regret this because I am sick. Mentally I am not doing very well at the moment, and I can feel the pressure rising and I have not had a day in weeks where I have not cried. My depression is back in full force and it is unbearable. I am struggling to concentrate and can only focus on the bad thoughts. I know I did the right thing taking some time away from the office. But there’s that perfectionist in me that thinks I am slacking by calling in sick. Until recently I had never taken a day off work for sickness and had always battled in. But I feel they have no respect for me and do not care if I dropped down dead (except they would care, because who would pick up the work and could they bill for my time?), so why should I do this? I am just nervous about becoming one of those ‘sick note’ people.
So yes, I have got to the point where I hate my job. I don’t know if I can get back to the point where I enjoy it again. I also don’t know what sort of job I can go into which would be challenging and interesting, but which is slightly less stressful. I have also thought about whether I should quit my job altogether and really focus on getting my health back on track and dealing with infertility. The problem with this is, we need the money to pay the mortgage and I am terrified that if I drop out now that will ruin any chance of having a career in the future.
I just don’t really know what to do for the best. I think for now I should just plod along and re-assess how I am doing in 6 months’ time, then hopefully make a decision about whether I should stick it out or do something else.