I Just Work Here
February 5, 2012
In 1978, a country music singer named David Allan Coe took every worker's darkest fantasy and captured it in a song that would become a soundtrack for days of office angst. A burly man — he looks like Hank Williams Jr. eating Willie Nelson — Coe sang:
"Lord I can't wait to see their faces/ When I get the nerve to say/ Take this job and shove it/ I ain't working here no more."
It's a viscerally satisfying sentiment for anyone who has ever been cheesed off at the boss. But as a professional and serious workplace-advice columnist, the idea of telling anyone at work to shove anything gives me pause.
This research into job-shoving was prompted by a question from a reader inching close to the end of his rope: "How bad does it look to the next employer if I quit without a job lined up? What if I quit with no notice? I'm very close to walking out today. Please advise."
OK, I'll advise: DON'T DO IT.
While the thought of quitting and telling the boss to smooch your keister can be appealing — and I mean home-baked brownie appealing — it's a terrible idea. And there are a number of reasons for that.
First, the job market is a bit dodgy these days, and if you quit a job without having another lined up, you might be living on ramen noodles for a while. Even if this was a booming economy, letting your frustrations get the better of you can make life worse.
"In general, your career is a story, and the better story you have, the more solid your career will be," said Penelope Trunk, a career coach and founder of BrazenCareerist.com. "You want the story to get better and better. When you're making a move, you think, 'How is this going to be part of story?' And a really dumb move can hurt your story."
Quitting a job spontaneously is more often than not going to be classified as a really dumb move.
"If you get really fired up one day and you decide to walk out on your job, you're going to have to explain that," said Emily Bennington, co-author of "Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out and Move Up at Your First Real Job." "When you get an interview for a new job, one of the first questions they're going to ask is, 'Why did you leave your last job?'"
If your answer is, "Because my boss was a jerk-face," there's a good chance the person doing the interview is going to think he or she will be the next jerk-face.
"If you say, 'I left my job because I hated my job,' well, everybody hates their job to some level," Trunk said. "There's no great job — if it's a great job, people do it for free and those are trust-fund kids. When you go into an interview and say, 'My job was so bad I couldn't even do it until I got another job,' the person in the interview will say, 'Gee, I hate my job sometimes, but I don't just up and quit.'"
So in those moments when you feel you're about to blow your top, be cliche and take a deep breath. Go buy yourself a violent video game. Discreetly punch a wall. (Apologies to any readers who might be walls.)
Then do two things: Adjust your attitude a bit, grumpy-puss and start looking for a new job before you break your hand on that wall.
As to the first item, Bennington suggests taking comfort in the fact that almost everyone has been in a job they loathe.
"The problem when you get into a situation like this is you develop a mental picture that your job is so bad that even the good parts of the job are totally outweighed by all the negative mental baggage," she said. "Even when something is going right, you're not going to see it. If all you do is think about all the different ways your job sucks, all you're going to do is attract more of that into your day."
When you're frustrated with a job, the last thing you want to hear is someone telling you to look on the bright side. But Bennington's point is pragmatic — you need the money, you need the job. Treat it as a means to an end, try to focus on anything about it that's positive and on the fact that you're finding a way out. Getting overwhelmed by the daily nuisances is just letting the bad guys win.
On the job-search point, be careful.
You're keeping your emotions in check so you can hold onto your current job. Don't lose the job by making your job search too public.
Peggy Padalino, vice president of sales and client services at Jobfox, a job networking and recruiting website, said people routinely get caught when a supervisor notices them updating their LinkedIn page or putting out feelers on Facebook.
"One of the most important things to do is when you're on any social networking or social recruiting site — and there are more and more of them out there — make sure you watch your privacy settings," she said. "A lot of users just don't take the time to really understand the fact that every time they do something it can become very public.
"The other big mistake a lot of candidates who are currently employed make is they're tempted to look for jobs while they're at work. That is just a do-not-do. So many companies now are monitoring which sites people are going to. As soon as you start hitting job sites, the word will get back to your boss. Don't be tempted to slip into, 'Oh, nobody's going to find out.'"
Even if you don't care whether your boss knows you're job searching, fishing for other gigs at work can look bad to potential employers — all they have to do is check the time to know you're flirting on company time.
So, to return to our country music theme, before you cast off that job you hate without something better to go to, remember that the grass ain't always greener. As Billy Ray Cyrus once sang: "I'm so miserable without you it's almost like you're here."
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