December 20, 2009 (The Dysfunctional Work Family)

MY WORK POLEMIC

[Note: I typed this on December 20, 2009. I was using what I’d learned in SAA, the self-help books and therapy, to attempt to comprehend what was going on at work, try and understand why I was so unhappy, and trying to bring clarity to my massive confusion. Names, of course, are changed.]

[Note about who people are (I explain further, throughout this journal entry):

  • Nikki: my boss for the first 2-3 years.
  • Jean: co-worker in same department; later promoted to a middle management person between myself (as well as our whole department) and Nikki. My boss for the last year or so.
  • Ms. Ep: Nikki’s boss.
  • Ms. X: C.E.O. and president of the company. Ms. Ep’s boss.
  • Tammy: co-worker in same department, hired about 2 years after me.
  • Lily: secretary co-worker in same department, hired about 2-3 years after me.
  • Becky Lawn: co-worker in same department; later promoted to work as a sort of secretary for Ms. X.
  • Barbara: co-worker in same department; later formed her own department in different building.
  • Jack: co-worker in same department, hired about 3 years after me, to take the place of Becky Lawn (after 2 other previous people in that position had also quit after about 6 months each). Quit after Jean was promoted. ]

THE DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY 

Nikki, my previous boss and Jean’s boss, says that our company is like a family to her. I mentioned to Tammy, a coworker in the same department, that the company “family” reminds me of an alcoholic family, and she thought that was a very good analogy.

It seems to me that Ms. X, the president and C.E.O. of the company, would be the comparable “addict” in this alcoholic family analogy. Tammy described her as the “benevolent dictator that wants to be loved, but not relinquish any control.”

Nikki and Jean are my past boss and current boss. Nikki is the Director and Jean is the Assistant. Then Jack, Lily, and I are under Jean’s direction. Tammy works in the same office but reports directly to someone else—Ms. Ep, who is Nikki’s boss and who then reports directly to Ms. X.

Tammy and I both agree that they [Nikki and Jean] were each promoted to their current positions due to loyalty to the company, meaning that they were promoted because they were simply here for a long time, as opposed to being promoted because thy showed the appropriate skills and had the correct training for the position.

Nikki might be slightly better than Jean, when it comes to managing others, but both are seriously lacking some desperately-needed managerial skills. This makes my position difficult, since I have to work under them.

Human Resources noticed that there is a problem with both bosses, but they think it is because of me, not because of the bosses. But Nikki and Jean have the same type of poor leadership style—a style which plays a big role in the problems of the department and the company.

Nikki and Jean could both be compared to the co-dependent “mothers” of the family, who are in denial about the problems of the company.

THE SCAPEGOATS

In many addict families, there is use of a scapegoat, or someone to blame on the family problems, in order to distract from the real problem. It’s as if all focus is on a mouse in the corner, while the giant elephant in the room is ignored.

I firmly believe that when I first started working at this company in early 2006, Barbara* was that scapegoat. Sure, she had a few problems, but they were blown out of proportion. I believe that it was an effort of the “codependents” in the department to keep fingers pointed at Barbara, and blame her for the problems in the department, instead of admitting that the department’s process itself was at fault and dysfunctional.

*[Note: Barbara used to be in my department when I first started. She reported to Ms. Ep. Then, Barbara was moved into a newly-created department, in a separate building, shortly before Jean received the promotion. Barbara used to work with a woman named Becky Lawn who was promoted to be some kind of assistant or secretary in the Administration building. Becky’s old position was changed so that the new-hire would report to Jean (instead of Ms. Ep).

This new position was still in charge of organizing events in the company and now went through at least 3 people who came and left, in about two years when usually people at the company stay for much longer. Upper management was confused as to why there was such a high rate of turn-over in that position.

Jack, hired in early 2009, was the most recent individual in Barbara’s old, reformed position. He was here when Jean received the promotion to be his boss, and shortly after, he submitted his resignation. He had confided in me that the reason why he was leaving was because Jean was lacking some critical managerial skills, and she should never have been promoted. He disguised the resignation to look like he was simply getting a job at a company that was more in-line with his college education (which was, in part, true).

As a side-note, Jack was the first male to be hired into that department in a very long time (I’m not sure if they ever had a guy working in that department). I was used to being around women and suddenly I felt very uncomfortable with a male being there, even though he was happy, cheerful, friendly and funny. In an effort to understand myself better and figure out what’s going on, I went to therapy, which is the same psychologist that I write about in March 2009.]

Once Barbara switched to a different department, and our department still had problems, another scapegoat was needed, because it is much easier to blame someone else rather than to admit the true problems of the company family and the process of doing business.

It is my belief that I was the next natural scapegoat in line. After all, I had already been used to naturally playing that role in my own family, as a child. I even aided that process by telling funny jokes, to distract from the horrible problems of my family. I was already naturally afraid to question the system and The Way of the company, which was never really logically explained to me, from the start.

ASKING THE QUESTIONS THAT NEEDED TO BE ASKED

By the time I finally gathered up enough courage to start asking questions about how to do things [triggered in part by the book, Atlas Shrugged], I had already been working at the company for at least a year or two.

I started questioning why the approval process has to be so long, and involve so many people. I started questioning why so many people were afraid to stand up to Ms. Ep, the head of the company.

My questions were met with odd looks, and the best answer anyone could give me was “it’s just always been that way,” which conflicted with my desire to make things work better, and always improve things if things can be improved.

Nikki said that besides, I should already know how things work, and already understand and respect the system, since I’ve been here for as long as I have.

My window of opportunity to ask questions had passed. I was left even more confused.

PLAYING GAMES

Working at this company is like playing a game—perhaps a game like Monopoly, Battleship, Chess or Checkers—except it is new to me and I don’t know the details about playing. In essence, I’m playing a game with someone who refuses to tell me the rules. The only way I am able to learn is trial-and-error, and by guessing. When I try to ask Nikki for help when I first came to the company, she wouldn’t tell me exactly what to do. I always had to guess at the rules and procedures.

THIS IS WRONG, THAT IS RIGHT, AND WE WON’T TELL YOU WHY

They don’t tell me when I do something right,* only when I do something wrong. When something is done wrong, even if I feel it’s not my fault, somehow Nikki (when she was my boss) and now Jean manages to manipulate the details of the situation so that it now becomes my fault.

I am left feeling like a scapegoat, almost all of the time. Small errors are blown to (what I believe are) incredible proportions, as if fire from hell was raining down onto earth and panic was to ensue.

The blame from the company bosses, mixed with unresolved guilt from childhood blame from my parents, combine in my heart, mind, and soul to result in extreme chaos and the inability to handle my emotions. I’ve had to slowly shut down my emotions and I’ve begun smiling less and avoiding talking to people so I didn’t have to fake a smile.

*Note from paragraph above: Sometimes people in the department congratulate me on a job well done with a design. But I never understand why they are telling me that it’s a good design, because so many of the materials we produce at the company are horribly-designed, due to the directions of upper-management.

The designs go against almost everything I learned at my university. That university’s design program is no joke. It’s nationally-accredited, and they put us through hell, always pushing us to put out the best work. The university has some of the highest design standards of any design school in the nation. I was greatly confused to see such a contrast between design philosophies—my university vs. my job at this company—and I feel helpless to bring better design to this company.

When I create designs at this company, and then people say how wonderful they are, I feel like a part of my soul dies, little by little. I want to scream at them, “This is a horrible design that would earn a ‘D’ letter grade at my university, at best! I could point out so many things that need to be fixed and improved, here!” but I have to smile and thank them, and say nothing else.

NEWCOMER IS INSPIRATION TO ME

When Tammy was hired, things changed (as far as the job goes) and I felt a great spark of life. I felt inspired, and my “Ayn Rand-like work ethic” was renewed. Ayn Rand is the author of Atlas Shrugged, and she is a great inspiration for working hard for what I believe is right. [Note: At the time, I was nearly an Objectivist.]

I wanted to make a positive difference and start making changes for the better, just like I’d dreamed of, in college.

I observed Tammy’s bravery and boldness when it came to challenging the processes at the company that clearly needed revision and desperately needed attention.

From what she tells me, she has “gotten her hand slapped” a few times, as well. [Note: Upper management had also told her to stop being such a bad influence on me; they may have blamed her for my sudden changes in behavior.]

I gathered up a little more courage, wanting to join her on her fight to make this company a better place (or at least our department a better place) and improve the efficiency and quality of the materials this company produces.

DIFFICULTIES EXPRESSING FEELINGS

Thanks to my parents, I never learned how to properly handle, display, and release emotions. So my natural tendency is to bottle-up feelings and tolerate much more dysfunction in my surroundings than what would normally be tolerated.

When my feelings eventually do come out, I don’t know how to express them in a healthy way, so it is similar to an uncontrollable volcano, and it is destructive.

That is how I handled expressing my emotions to Human Resources. It was a desperate cry for help, attempting to point out the problems. H.R. and Nikki (and her boss, Ms. Ep) ended up turning it back onto me, and saying that I was the cause of the problems in the department. I became the official scapegoat.

IS BRAINWASHING NEEDED?

At the end, I tried desperately to simultaneously give my bosses what they want while trying to keep my morals, values, and work ethic that I’ve begun to realize and learn, with the help of therapy since March 2009.

Aside from doing the work expected of me, I tried to play along with the illusion that we’re one big happy family, while keeping my morals and values true in my heart.

However, the happiness they desire from me is easily seen as fake—which it is, because I’m not happy, due to the atmosphere and the people here—and they requested that I feel it from the inside, and truly show happiness, friendliness and smiles, etc.

In order to survive here, I feel that I must actually brainwash myself into believing that things are good, and enter a state of denial about the problems in the department and company.

THE FRAGILE IMAGE OF THE COMPANY

Once I am gone from the company, I am almost positive that Tammy will become the next scapegoat, depending on what the new person is like who will take my place.

However, I doubt that people would place blame on a newcomer, especially if that person knows how to hold personal boundaries. It’s much easier for the company “family” to place blame on someone like me, who has no boundaries at all, and who does not even know how to enforce boundaries even if I did have them.

Even people like Becky Lawn, in Administration, know information that, in Tammy’s words, “can’t be repeated to anyone since most of it shreds the company image the Admin team is trying to portray.”

So clearly, it’s not just our department that holds secrets that would destroy the outside appearance of this company family. Just like an addict’s family.

QUESTIONING WHY I STAY HERE

Becky Lawn gets through by constantly reminding herself that it is just a job, something that I’ve been trying to do but is difficult for me to accomplish, since I feel like I need to completely change who I am, what I believe in, change my morals and values, and even change my personality, just to keep working here.

Why do I stay? Is it my own codependency? Is it the “golden handcuffs” in which working adults find themselves shackled because we need/want the money? Is it the serious lack of self esteem?

I KNOW THE GAME, BUT IT’S STILL FRIGHTENING FOR ME

Tammy said that Jack went to Nikki with complaints about Jean’s management style, mostly about lack of “boss-like qualities” like time management and managerial skills. “Her skills just aren’t where they should be for someone in her position,” Tammy said. Tammy supported Jack when he went to Nikki, and Nikki became upset over the issue.

This is one of the things that is being pushed under the rug and ignored. It is clear as day, but it seems like the upper management is in denial. Like alcoholic and dysfunctional families, much time is spent covering up what is really going on, and a blind eye is turned. Everyone insists that everything is fine.

“Meanwhile,” Tammy says, “you’re miserable and often scared to try and change anything because you can’t be sure what will happen. […] Illusion is a good word. We are not a happy department. With all the changes/upheaval in the last year, it’s no wonder.”

Tammy is very right—I’m scared and I’m terrified. Despite the fact that this is a “family situation” with which I am extremely familiar, that doesn’t make it any easier.

It is very emotionally draining and mentally difficult to play along with the mass denial and the department’s facade.

When Nikki or Jean talk to me alone, or when they gather together with Human Resources, I never stand a chance because I’m afraid and anxious. They tell me lies about my behavior and actions and I instinctively agree with them, just to hurry and end the conversation.

ACCUSATIONS WITHOUT EVIDENCE

They said I exhibited “hostile behavior” and I tried to think of examples. I gave them a few possible examples, but they kept saying, “no, that’s not it.” So I asked them at least 2-3 times for examples of “hostile behavior” and they flat-out refused.

I could only conclude that they are either lying or drastically misinterpreting my actions and behavior.

AFRAID, AND UNSURE HOW, TO STAND UP FOR MYSELF

But of course, I could never tell them or “accuse” them of lying like that. I can never tell them my feelings because it is never safe. I have to take everything they “dish out to me” because I’m unable to defend myself.

Additionally, I lack debating skills since I fear confrontation and arguments (even “healthy arguments” are terrifying, to me). This props the door wide open for anyone at the company to walk all over me.

In the end, I carry a deep, bitter rage inside—never expressed and forever building like a volcano.

OTHERS KNOW, BUT UNABLE TO HELP

Additionally, I want to keep confidential the private feelings and opinions that Barbara, Tammy, and Edward (a contractor who frequently works with the company especially with myself) have told me about the company.

I am honored that they trust me with their information, and that they also see that things are not all that great here in this department. But it also leaves me alone, with no backup and no support, when I am cornered and confronted by upper management and Human Resources.

THE “RULES” OF DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES

When I walk away from the company, I will have learned the following unhealthy, unspoken rules and lessons of the company and the department.

Again, these “rules” are very similar to that of alcoholic families, or any other addictive, dysfunctional family units.

  • Don’t feel or talk about feelings.
  • Don’t think for myself (boss will tell me how and what to think).
  • Don’t identify, talk about, or solve problems.
  • Don’t be who I am —be good, right, strong, and perfect.
  • Don’t be selfish—take care of the department and neglect myself.
  • Don’t trust others or myself.
  • Don’t be vulnerable.
  • Don’t be direct.
  • Don’t get close to coworkers [family members].
  • Don’t grow, change, or in any way rock the company’s [family’s] boat.

These rules might as well have been posted on the refrigerator in the back room of our department.

THE MOST DIFFICULT ADDICTION?

On top of all that I’ve written so far, I’ve been in recovery, attending the 12-stop meetings almost every day since October 9, 2009. The first months of any 12-step program are pure hell.

However, I’ve heard from many of the “multiple-addict” members that this addiction [sex] is the hardest one of all—it makes programs like AA and NA seem like a cake-walk.

I wouldn’t know; I’m not addicted to alcohols or narcotics; but I believe it.

The emotional pain from beginning the SLAA 12-step process is so immense that I need to shut down emotionally, to get through the work day. I’m just so sick of crying all the time.

Again, this was another reason why I eventually stopped responding to others at work. How could I possibly smile and be joyful when I am suicidal every moment of the day?

But no one knows that I am that low right now; I must hide those painful feelings, so Jean can have her lovely, happy little department, with no problems at all.

So I have to go back to ignoring my needs and ignoring my feelings, and becoming who others want me to be—just like what happened in childhood.

I’m skilled at doing that, but is that really how I want to live my life?

DEBATING WHETHER OR NOT TO LEAVE JOB

Unfortunately, I believe that my job is the #1 factor blocking my road to recovery and healing right now (well, that, and my natural tendency to compulsively isolate myself from people—even people who want to help me).

Should I stay for the money and benefits? Well, what good is the money and benefits if I’m not healing anyway, right?

Should I stay to pull more pranks on Jean and have my fun? (like forging her [required] signature on my time card and telling her that she signed it last week and merely “forgot”) [Note: the interesting thing about this one-time prank was that I later found out that she really DID forget that she’d already signed Jack’s time card, that very week.] If I did that, then I’d be in denial that the pranks would only be hurting myself, in the end.

How much longer will I used the excuse of the poor economy, to stay in this dysfunctional company family relationship? I know very well that I can survive off as little as $20k per year, and that’s just about an average fast food job.

I am hesitant to quit—Does quitting mean that the company will win and I will lose and look pathetic? Am I running from my problems again? Or am I being responsible and getting out of an abusive and harmful situation?

Most likely, I’ll end up quitting and I’ll tell them that my “fiance” encouraged me to take this opportunity to finally move to whatever U.S. state comes to mind, as I’ve been wanting to do for a while, now. Or so I’ll tell them. I don’t really have a fiance. And I wouldn’t be the first person who lied and quit, saying that they were moving to another state, but didn’t move in reality.

 THOUGHTS ABOUT A TEAM-BUILDING EXERCISE

The first time I ever got frustrated at Nikki, my previous boss, was during an official “team building exercise.” A bunch of departments gathered together to engage in team building activities [this was held at an outside location, by a company that specialized in work-place team building activities].

One of the games was passing tennis balls to each other. [We stood in a circle, caught a ball from one person and tossed the ball to a different person.]

I hated how Nikki appeared to not take it seriously, and she was slower than the others, causing a hold-up, which caused failure.

It wasn’t just her, though. There were problems. Before we started again, I stepped up and said something, since it seemed like neutral ground [aka: not a hierarchical system like at work] and I wouldn’t be yelled at.

I said, “Wait a second. What is going on here that’s causing the process to be slow?” and I pointed to the path between Nikki and the person next in line to catch the tennis balls after her.

Immediately they laughed and said, “Whoa! [my name]!” They didn’t even fix the problem. All they did was laugh and make fun of me.

The process of the tennis balls was never successful, and we moved on to the next planned activity because of the time constraints.

ATLAS SHRUGGED” SOUNDED LIKE A GOOD SOLUTION

I long for a boss who loves to look at reality, and use logic—not emotion—to solve problems. Where can I find John Galt?

I want a boss who values ideas and input from employees and is not afraid to admit where the work process could be improved.

I want a boss who rewards employees for things we do right, and helps us fix things we’re doing wrong.

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27 thoughts on “December 20, 2009 (The Dysfunctional Work Family)

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