A recent submission to “Workaholic,” the New York Times career advice blog, posed a question that will probably sound familiar to many workers out there. The anonymous advice-seeker asked the following:
“I work in communications for a large health care company, and I love the essence of what I do — helping patients make informed decisions and promoting the good work of phenomenal physicians. However, I don’t love all my colleagues, some of whom are lazy idiots. And the biggest problem is my boss.
He is not qualified (he got the job because his family knows someone on the board) and has no management skills. I’m not the only one who sees how bad he is. Co-workers from other teams have told me they feel sorry for me because he’s so awful. Not long ago he unofficially promoted someone to oversee the work that a colleague and I create, a setup that has basically alienated both my colleague and me. (We are the only two black people in the office.) When I vocalized my displeasure, my boss told me that my opinion doesn’t matter. Since then I have been despondent.
But recently the organization has made some high-level staff changes — including a new boss for my incompetent supervisor. I’ve debated whether go directly to this executive to voice my frustrations. However, I’m concerned about potential repercussions. I’ve heard that, despite an organizational policy to the contrary, others who have complained in the past were let go.
Should I say something — or just look for another job?”
Workologist is maintained by career expert Rob Walker, who gave this advice to the anonymous worker: “Ultimately, you should probably do both.” As Walker explained, the employee sounded like he’d found his calling — but unfortunately he was a long way from securing his ideal professional home. Many other employees find themselves in a similar conundrum: they have little respect for their boss and/or many of their colleagues, and they also mistrust the organization itself. If you’re despondent, it’s not clear to me why you aren’t looking for another job already.
The Workologist recommends that most people make job-hunting a routine, even if casual, part of their work practice. In other words, you don’t need to send out résumés for every opening. But you should keep your résumé current even when there are no immediate plans to leave, and stay informed about other opportunities out there by networking in your field and staying open to solicitations from other employers. That way, if something at work all of a sudden makes your current job more unstable or less enjoyable, you don’t have to start from scratch.
In fact, in the case of the worker who hates his boss, the Workologist absolutely urges him to aggressively explore other options. But doing that shouldn’t preclude more immediate efforts to improve someone’s current situation. There’s always a certain element of risk in doing an end-run around our bosses; if you do take this option, be sure to stick to the facts and put the organization’s best interests front and center. Pure venting or name-calling won’t get you the desired results. For example, a manager’s indifference to constructive employee feedback is relevant issue, while a boss’s family connections to the board or other members of senior management is not what you should focus on. Express your concerns, explain that your colleagues share them, and if you genuinely feel confident this is the case, put forward some suggested solutions (not demands), and demonstrate that you respect the executive you’re addressing by asking for advice.
You need to be prepared for a number of different results here. The executive may advise that you’ll be happier at another company. And they might be right, give how bad the situation is. But it’s still worth trying to fix this situation, even as you consider other options.