Is This Job Worth It?

By Troy Hadley on 3 April 2007 (Updated 10 June 2007) 18 comments

This post technically isn't about me. It's about a friend, a lousy job situation, and soliciting feedback from our readers for a friend of mine.

Tiffany is an engineer who works for a small start-up. She makes a very good salary, has benefits, and doesn't have a particularly heavy workload at the moment (her company is building a product, so the work comes in fits and starts, so she's been chilling for a couple of months while the hardware is being built). Anyway, Tiff is kind of bored right now, but otherwise OK. She's the only female in her office, and works with about 12 men who are much older than she is (she's 27, they're all about 45-57).

She feels well-respected and knows that she has plenty to offer the company. The CEO seems to like her, she gets long well with everyone.

Tiff recently became close with a coworker named Mike. Not close-close in a here-comes-the-lawsuit kind of way, but so that they discussed their lives with each other. Mike could complain about his college-age daughters to Tiffany, and she would assure him that they would turn out fine. They both discussed their concerns over the direction of their company, which was erratic, to say the least.

Mike's job was to coordinate several engineering projects, although he wasn't technically a manager. Mike got along well with the CEO, and idea-man who is big on vision and short on business plans. He was one of the few people who could tell the CEO when he was getting off-track.

A few weeks back, the company almost went under. Funding wasn't coming in as expected, and paychecks were delayed. Tiffany and everyone else started sending their resumes out to old coworkers and recruiters, but kept working for the company with the CEO's reassurance that the checks were in the mail.

When Tiff and Mike were having lunch one day, and talking about where they were going, Tiff expressed some of her concerns about the proprietary nature of the job. Because everything that they are developing is very hush-hush, Tiff isn't able to say much on her resume beyond "I coded some things that I have to kill you over if you knew about them." She told Mike that she was worried about continuing to work for a company that wouldn't put a product out for two years, and she'd have nothing to show for it on her resume in the meantime, should she need to find a new job.

Mike started discussing the company's non-compete contract, something that all employees are required to sign. The non-compete had been written and rewritten, with several rounds being rejected by the employees because they were far too strict. The final had not yet been drafted, and thus, no one had signed it. Mike stressed that if Tiffany were to leave, she would need to sign it.

"Mike," said Tiffany, "I'm not signing that. I'd never get hired anywhere else if they knew I signed that thing. You know that. I know that. That's why no one signed it."

Mike shrugged and kept eating his hotdog. He later said something about wanting to ensure that Tiffany stayed onboard, which Tiff thought was nice. Then they discussed his job prospects at his old employer, and the positions that Tiffany was interviewing for, just in case the company went under.

A couple of days later, Tiffany was called into the CEO's office. The CEO, Jim, was red in the face. He told Tiffany not to take what he was about to say in the wrong way, and then launched into a rambling lecture about the importance of focusing on one's job. When Tiffany tried to assess what he was talking about, he said something like "I can't have you looking sideways, looking for other jobs, always looking around for a better position." Tiffany explained that she wasn't always looking around, but that she had sent out her resume like everyone else when the paychecks stopped coming.

Tiffany was understandably upset, realizing that Mike had ratted her out. Technically, she hadn't done anything wrong, and since everyone, including Mike, was putting out employment feelers, she didn't see the need for all the blustering. The CEO then said, "Now, going forward, this isn't going to affect your job here at all. We like you, and we want you here," which Tiffany immediately realized was code for "This is definitely something that we will hold against you for a long time." When she got up to leave, feeling like she would either cry or scream at any minute, Jim added, "We need to you to be 100% on-board. We need enthusiasm. We can't have anyone half-assing this."

Now, engineers are not an enthusiastic bunch. Tiffany felt like she was being given the "You need to wear more flair" speech. Half-ass? She worked as hard as anyone else at the company.

That's when Mike came to her desk and asked if he could talk to her. Slightly pissed at him, she followed him to the conference room, where Mike proceeded to explain that not only had he told the CEO that Tiff was looking for a new job, but that she was refusing to sign the non-compete. Basically, Mike had told her boss that she was leaving the company, and was taking the technology with her.

Tiffany didn't know what to say, so she got up and left.

An hour and a half later, a company meeting was called, and it was announced that Mike was now in charge of Tiff's projects. Basically, Tiffany was demoted, and Mike was put in charge of her.

Now, Tiffany is in a rough place. She hates Mike with all of her heart, and knows that what he did, he did for the purposes of climbing the corporate ladder, which is kind of odd in an office of less than 15 people. Although she has since clarified her position and intentions to the CEO, and signed the new non-compete along with the rest of her coworkers, she can't help but want to stab Mike through the eyeball with a sharpened #2 pencil.

I've listened to Tiff's woes over a beer or two, and I can't think of a single good bit of advice to give her. She could retaliate against Mike and casually mention the times that he commented on the CEO's wife's ass. She could quit and do some contracting, because permanent jobs are hard to come by. Or she could just suck it up and work with Mike, reporting to Mike, and simply never speak to him about anything personal again.

What would you do in this situation? Me, all I can think of is a good punch to the jaw, but Tiff isn't known for her skills left hook. Also, I'm not sure I'd even be in the same position, because I prefer to hold my cards close to my chest and discuss next to nothing with coworkers. So I'm stuck between telling her that it's her fault for being so trusting, and helping her let the air out of the guy's tires.

Any advice?

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Guest's picture
Dave

Hey guys and gals,

I'm one of your RSS lurkers and I love the blog! Thanks for the fantastic content!

While I'm not in the same position as your friend, I've recently gone through some of the same paycheck delays. It's awful! Were I in the same spot, I would leave. Politics have no place in the office. Especially involving individuals with a back-stabbing tendency. I know they'll always be there, but Tiff can make a definitive effort to find somewhere else to work.

From what it sounds like, Tiff is a competent and valuable employee and would make any organization a better place. What's the harm in putting out the feelers for another full-time position? I would probably recommend against announcing it to the company she currently works for, but I have a feeling she wouldn't have a problem finding another permanent position in short order. I'm assuming she's a software engineer of some sort (you mentioned coding) and those types of jobs are in pretty high demand right now.

Though, a good pencil through the eyeball might get the point across a little more quickly. :)

Guest's picture
Guest

Hmm.. tricky.. but I think your friend Tiffany needs to have a talk with Mike about what he just did. Sounds cheessy, yes, but he might just be one of those "can't keep a secret" "ambitious yet clueless about other people" type people. But if she finds out that he is not (and she is absoutely sure of it... straight from the "horse's mouth", aka Mike) and he really was as backstabbing as he sounds like he could be AND now he is also her superior, then it's probably time to leave.

I also wonder if Mike (or the other men in her office) baby her or "father" her in terms of projects and career stuff. It could be a case of Mike thinks he knows what is best for her (but doesn't) and just totally messed her up.

Troy Hadley's picture

Tiff's job pays well. Insanely well. Leaving would mean taking a 20-30% paycut. Apparently, there aren't a lot of well-paying engineering jobs where we live, so that's her big problem. THIS was a dream job, for the most part.

Guest's picture
J. Kyle

It sounds to me like the situation there is only going to get worse. The first thing that Tiff should probably do is to work on forgiving Mike for betraying her and just let it go. It seems like everyone in the company is really concerned about the future of the company, and I bet a lot of people are acting out-of-character (especially when faced with the possibility of losing someone like Tiff). While Mike might actually be a bad guy, there is no sense in Tiff harboring hatred -- it'll eat her up inside.

Also, if her job pays insanely well, even a 30% pay-cut would still pay very well. Money is the worst reason to stay at a job that you would loath going to. I recently went through a "money isn't everything" a-ha moment (I'm 25), and life is much better now that I can pursue those things which are truly fulfilling in life.

Best of luck to Tiff!

Andrea Karim's picture

Not sure what I would do. I do so like my money that I just might put up with the annoyance until it got really bad, then I'd bail.

I don't know - a 30% pay cut would suck for me. I make a decent paycheck, but if you cut it by that much, I'd have a hard time making ends meet. Mortgage, and all.

Guest's picture
Guest

Tiffany has a choice.
If the money is the most important. Find a way to get past the anger, and understand that she will never regain her lost status. If she can't work just for the money, then she needs to come to terms with that, and begin the process to move on to a new job.

The fault here is only partially with Mike. It's largely with the CEO. Rather than acknowledging the legitimacy of her worry, her right to put being able to pay her bills above company loyalty, he attacked her for having the temerity to "publically" acknowledge the company's position. If she stays she's needs to understand that her loyalty will always be suspect, and this CEO expects employees to always put the company first, even at their own detriment. Which means he is not loyal to his employees, and will likely sacrifice them without a second thought. He sacrificed Tiffany by making a public example of her as a "warning" to other employees.

If she understands this and can stay without resenting it, then stay and enjoy the extra income.

If not, then downsize the lifestyle, save aggressively, and start networking and searching for a new position. My vote is for the latter.

Guest's picture
Guest

She should consider leaving. Her salary may be high but unless she is planning on working there forever she should take into consideration that she is painting herself into a corner because she isn't building her resume for her next job. At least not with anything that she can disclose. Also, if she leaves before signing the non-compete contract I don't think they have any recourse if she decides to work for a competitor.

I am also an engineer working at a small company on a new product launch and I am also usually bored out of my mind. That alone makes me want to leave, I couldn't imagine dealing with all of the politics.

Good Luck!

Guest's picture
Guest

She should consider leaving. Her salary may be high but unless she is planning on working there forever she should take into consideration that she is painting herself into a corner because she isn't building her resume for her next job. At least not with anything that she can disclose. Also, if she leaves before signing the non-compete contract I don't think they have any recourse if she decides to work for a competitor.

I am also an engineer working at a small company on a new product launch and I am also usually bored out of my mind. That alone makes me want to leave, I couldn't imagine dealing with all of the politics.

Good Luck!

Guest's picture
Guest

She should call Mike's daughters and tell them that theiir father doesn't have any faith in them.

Teach him the concept of confidence.

Tannaz Sassooni's picture

this is kind of random and off-topic, and its usefulness as far as advice goes is dependent on a bunch of things -- Tiffany's location, willingness to shift gears, lots of stuff. but still. i worked in visual effects (which also encompasses computer animation) for the last 3 years (and may possibly go back as of tomorrow), and i have to say, it's a great industry for your average atypical geek -- whether the atypicalness comes from being female, or hip, or whatever.

I didn't work as an animator, or anything else artsy. most of my job was programming. so the thing is, you are writing code, but rather than being surrounded by middle aged engineers, you're surrounded by young artists. i'm not sure how much money tiffany is making currently, but visual effects industry is fueled by hollywood, so there is money to be made. one example: i've worked with one of the head engineers from the Pathfinder mission, who now works as a digital effects supervisor, and as such, is doing quite well for himself -- better making glorified cartoons than he did sending stuff to mars for nasa/jpl.

the work is not without its faults -- there can be long hours, oppressive deadlines, dark offices, etc. but i suspect that within Tiffany's current industry, even if she does move to a different company, the employee demographic is not going to be that different than what she's dealing with now.

Guest's picture
Mark

It seems that as great as the pay is, its not very good for the well being of Tiffany. The CEO assumes that she's a rat ready to jump the ship. He didn't stop to see her side of the story, he simply took Mike's word as gospel. Thats a big strike for a boss that you should trust and work your butt off for.
And then Mike, the direct supervisor uses your openness against you and makes you feel alienated by forcing you to be his subordinate. I think that its 1. Disrespectful that he sold you out. 2. Probably manipulative since it seems that no one else got "the talk" that Tiffany did from the boss when everyone else did the same thing in looking for other jobs. and 3. Mike must think Tiffany is a complete idiot if he had to call her into a room and explain to her what happened. I'm pretty sure she knew after the CEO chewed her out. He just wanted to enjoy his victory over you i imagine. And sadly, it wouldn't surprise me if he tried to exploit and take advantage of you again.

Look at it this way, hes your boss. When one of the projects doesn't turn out right, and its Mike's fault, if he turns to the CEO and said well Tiffany didn't do a good job.. who will the CEO believe?
I work at a 12 person company and we trust and talk to each other as brothers and sisters. We have to because we work together 50+ hours a week and are committed to going public in 2 years and it requires trust, honesty, and friendship to make such a small group of people pull off great success.
Money is important, especially if you are single, just out of school and paying off all the debt you have built up. But if you are suffering personally, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally because of the treatment you get at work, its time to go. You should float your resume, and see if you can re-work your budget to manage a lower paying job, or even if it gets bad enough, to go a few weeks without work. i know it may seem crazy to quit from a big money job, but i've had to do that before. my bosses were not reasonable and i would end the day throwing up because of the stress and misery i was enduring from work. It was time to quit, and I think you might be there too...
Good luck.

Guest's picture
Di

Tiffany should keep sending out her resumes and feelers and leave. She's just been put in a really, really bad posiiton that she won't recover from, and over time the office politics will cost her her high-scale pay. Since she'd be taking a 20-30% paycut to go elsewhere, she should also see a financial counselor and really take stock of her lifestyle and living situation. She may just have to find a way to cut her spending by 30%, or save a little less than she did before.

Guest's picture
Tim

Since she has now learned a valuable lesson about co-workers and trust, she will not make that error again.

So, she now needs to leave, and to ensure that she has the benefit of the higher salary. This is likely to mean a locations change.

Did the paychecks start to come in again? If not then leaving soon is good because no paycheck is no salary. "30% higher" is great when it comes, but zero is zero.

She needs to join places like LinkedIn and start to get testimonials on here account and start to network.

Guest's picture
Judy

I agree she's learned a lesson that will serve her well for the rest of her work life. Things will only get worse where she is now, however, so she is wasting time there.

If she was making such great money, hopefully she has saved some of it for a rainy day, and that day has come.

Fortunately she is young and single rather than mniddle aged with children to support. Of course had she been middle aged with children, she probably would not have been so naive as to get THAT chummy with Mike the Asshat.

Guest's picture
Amy

I agree with everyone who thinks she should leave. Now that 'Mike' has shown his TRUE colors, it's only going to get worse from here. If the CEO and Mike are watching her - and in small offices the scrutiny can be oppressive - every action is going to be dissected, second guessed and discussed between them. Every time she walks down the hallway they will wonder what she's up to, or goes out to lunch, or has a doctor's appointment. Sadly, her superiors have made it clear what the work environment is going to be like from here on out.

And money - regardless of how much - isn't worth losing ones self respect over. Is it really worth it in the end? I say it's time to move on - take her good work ethic and personal integrity and find a more suitable environment.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am a recruiter and was in a similar position last year – the CEO called me into his office with a similar speech. She needs to find another position right away. The trust with the company has been broken. If she doesn't she will be the first person to go when they start looking for people to cut. Mike has proven that he can not be trusted. She needs to look at more then just the compensation. For one thing, she isn’t being compensated currently, and we spend way too much time at work to be miserable. When talking to other companies, all she has to say is that she isn’t comfortable with the instability of a start up company. She should talk to Mike about the situation and put it behind her. One way or the other I predict that in 3 months or less she will not be in that job. It is up to her on whether the change is her choice or not.

Guest's picture
Ernie

Tiffany SHOULD start planning her escape, but in the mean time she should work on building her resume. First off, I would discount Mike's actions entirely and chalk it up as "I know my boss really, really well." In the mean time, I would be keeping a log of my work (Started this day, completed this day...) with a short description of each. She should remember that she doesn't have to give up anything about what she worked on. She should be able to bracket it in task-neutral terminology (For example "Coded several API modules in C# supporting the company's core product" etc...) She needs to remember two things: 1) Depending on the state, the non-compete/non-disclosure may not be worth the paper it is printed on. Check the local laws. And 2) The SCOTUS said that the company can only own the FRUITS of her labor, not the knowledge used or learned in it's creation. So, that said, tell her to "Have at it!" on the job search.

In her company, she should be talking with peers about availability for reference calls, over coffee or a drink AWAY from work, gather good contact information on each person and use tools like LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com) to build her contact base just for backups and opportunity generation.

Also, if she's been in the field for a while, in the job search she should start trying to reinvent herself as a higher-up. Chances are, she knows a whole lot about her boss's job and could drop into the roll somewhere else.

Other than that, it sounds like the company has a death rattle, and if she sticks it out, at least she'll get unemployment (a pittance) and maybe a decent severance package.... JMHO

Guest's picture

Tiff I think has had that excellent knowledge and ability that upholds the company for the reason of protecting their own means. She must really be an asset to the company and using this edge as self protection is just a matter of stability and strong will. If Mike can fool you around with his tactics then I think he needs a straight forward conversation that will put words on his face that your capabilities are ahead better than him. Be strong girl, If you wish to stay on your company then show them off that you're more than better than what they expect of you.