You sign the offer letter with a flourish.
You’ve made it. A global company with an office right here in Kuala Lumpur. Consistently ranked in those BEST PLACES TO WORK surveys, with its directors regularly in The Times giving smart “thought leadership” comments.
It wasn’t easy. The interview process took three months — including multiple chats with senior leaders — which is how you know they only hire the best. You enjoyed interviewing with Linda, your direct boss the most. She’s the right mix of smart and humble, a leader millennials would like.
There’s even a 10% increment from your previous job. You would have taken it anyway; your previous employers brought in an asshole CEO who ruined the company. You needed an exit, but this was better. MNC ✅ Salary ✅ Benefits ✅
This was gonna be your dream job.
Getting Started in a Changing World
You get your laptop at home via FedEx on your first day. Pandemic times need different ways of working. You’re glad your new company prioritizes employee wellbeing.
It’s a MacBook; even your girlfriend is impressed. You unbox it while she captures the moment on Instagram. It’s not new, which is okay, but the gross part is the layer of dust on the monitor and keyboard. Your first interaction with your new laptop is to sanitize it.
Not a good omen. Guess someone in IT is lazy, but hopefully everyone else is competent.
You feel better on your first Microsoft Teams call with Linda that afternoon. She’s thrilled you’ve finally joined.
You’ll spend your first two weeks going through onboarding sessions and mandatory e-learning. Immediately after, you’ll get a rare opportunity to dive straight into a new project with a new customer.
Time to start earning your salary.
You Need to be Flexible
Two weeks in, you realize you won’t be working with your direct boss on the new project. It’s under Jack, another senior manager.
Employees are expected to be flexible though. You might get pulled into different project teams depending on need. That’s okay. You just hope Jack is a good boss.
Your fears come true. Among his first words to you are, “You were not my first choice for this project…”
You’re perplexed why a leader would say that to a newcomer. Maybe it’s some kinda power move, or an aggressive way to say “You need to prove yourself, bitch.” You play mental gymnastics to figure it out, while trying to maintain a positive mindset.
Hope is quickly extinguished in your second chat with him, when he sets a work meeting at 9 p.m.
You’ve dealt with workaholic bosses before. You know how to draw boundaries. But with Jack, his workaholism seems to know no bounds — it affects everyone around him — on nights, weekends and public holidays.
Not only that, he tries to get involved down to the smallest detail, like the choice of words used in an email.
“It’s just because I’m new,” you tell yourself. “Once I’ve gained his trust, he won’t micromanage me anymore.”
Finding Inspiration at Work
The company charges your customers USD x,xxx per day for your expertise.
Your work is so trivial, you could have nailed this shit when you were a fresh graduate 10 years ago. Common sense + Google.
Instead, most of your time is spent cleaning up other people’s mistakes. Nobody reads anything. Communications are a mess — the mother of all inefficiencies.
Things you’re an expert in are challenged, as if they were a panel of professors grilling a PhD candidate. You feel like you’re stuck in the scene from “Don’t Look Up,” where idiot politicians ignore the expertise of the scientists in the room.
Three months in, you trawl your brain, looking for some kind of sign you’re happy at work.
The only thing that comes to mind is that one-off Finger Painting class. And your friend on the customer’s side who teaches you how to create fun animations for PowerPoint decks.
Your happy things at work are not really related to work.
Everyone Needs a Friend
With work mostly remote, you’ve barely met any of your colleagues in real life.
In your Microsoft Teams huddles, they suggest you should go to the upcoming annual dinner — because it’s good to network and meet the bosses.
Sounds like kissing ass to you, but you wonder if that’s the way to get ahead in this world. Regardless, you still go, hoping to meet some nice people. It’s at an elaborate Japanese restaurant with 328 five-star ratings. The food sucks.
A director calls you from his table and directs you to introduce yourself. Before you can say much, he interrupts you and switches his attention away. He doesn’t bother to introduce himself. There’s really no need, because everyone knows who he is — the boss.
The boss is much more impressive in The Times than he is in real life.
Maybe it’s some kind of analogy for what you’re going through.
Anyhow, you don’t want to be judgmental. You’re torn. You feel bad about thinking these thoughts: but it sucks to work with people you don’t like.
The only person you really admire is Linda. Too bad she’s going away on personal leave soon.
How Will Your Employees Remember You?
On one of your few visits to the office, you’re amazed at how nice the VIP customer’s lounge looks. You pull out your phone to snap some pics, but the receptionist tells you off. She reminds you employees aren’t allowed to hang around there.
You return to the employees’ floor. You try to ignore the fabric on your cubicle panel which looks like it was installed in 1997.
In The Times, you read how the company has been resilient and profitable despite the pandemic. Somehow the company does an amazing job of selling itself to the outside world.
Meanwhile, your expenses from two months ago haven’t been paid yet, and the admin officer is a bitch, finding minute technical issues with your claims.
Ironic how a thought leader in employee wellbeing can make its own employees feel unappreciated.
The stats agree. Company turnover is high — 22% of employees quit every year. Mostly people who’re in probation. You wonder if the people who stay are really good, or if they just swallow the blue pill and accept the bullshit.
The Boss Is Always Right
Things have improved with Jack. Marginally.
As planned, you’ve proved your worth. You can tell he tries to be nicer to you now. Maybe it’s also because things reached breaking point a few times over the past five months and you told him off.
There are still things you can’t stand though. Like how he implies you should be thankful he doesn’t call you when you’re on leave. He still loves to question nonsensical aspects of your work — you’re not sure if it’s a way to keep employees on their toes, or just to show who’s boss.
Meanwhile with customers, he says YES to everything. Even when it’s clear they’re out of line. Being the lowest-ranked person on the project, you bear the brunt of all the additional work.
You also hate the empty promises, topped up with wishy-washiness. Jack has no problem promising something only to reverse his decision hours later. To save face, he covers with, “Did I say that earlier?’
Your girlfriend forwards you a clickbait “8 Signs You Work for a Toxic Boss” article.
Jack scores an impressive 7/8.
Work is still work. Despite your grievances, you try to keep up your standards.
You go above and beyond. You’re picking up the slack for colleagues who fuck up. Even those who outrank you.
When you complain to your girlfriend, she goes all philosophical about how “incentives drive behavior,” something she must have picked up from reading too many HBR thought leadership articles. You hold back from rolling your eyes.
It’s true though. As it stands, there’s no benefit in working fast and hard — you just get punished with more work from those who work slow and bad. “Why not just join the rot?”
Jack tells you you’re doing well.
In the performance appraisal, he rates you as average, right in the middle of the bell curve of employees. You think he’s just lazy to justify higher ratings to upper management. He tells you it’s better to remain in your current position, because “if you get promoted before you’re ready, you’re the one who’s going to suffer.”
– – –
From the company’s perspective, you’re a good worker. In your final evaluation, you have some “areas for improvement,” but no dealbreakers. They must appreciate your excellent work, but are probably uncomfortable with your outspoken nature.
The company wants to confirm you. You don’t.
You hand in your resignation the day before probation ends.
The boss asks “why?”
– – –
Pic from Pexels: SevenStorm JUHASZIMRUS
This feels a bit too personal. Is this from personal experience bro? Somehow I felt hurt too
Perhaps there’s a bit of truth in even fictional stories bro 🙂
This post resonates with me on so many levels. From the excitement of joining a supposedly “amazing” company, to the colleagues whom I’ve yet to meet in real life, long working hours, unreasonable deadlines, incompetent superiors, menial tasks that make you wonder whether the 4 years of university was even worth the time/money. I constantly wonder if I am just not good enough to survive in this corporate world.
This post does provides solace – knowing I’m not the only one who feels that way. Thank you for writing this.
Thanks for dropping by CY.
The good news is there are so many better work environments out there. Hope you will find one soon.
Take care and all the best!
Really enjoyed this post. You’re a great storyteller! I’ve mostly worked temp jobs over the course of my adult working career (fast approaching the end – I hope). I can’t tell you how many times, over the years, I have thought to myself “how the heck did that manager get his job? He’s got to have pictures/video on somebody!” Heng is correct many have terrible people skills.
Appreciate you dropping by. Hope the early retirement comes soon!
Why? Because Bosses have terrible people skills. Yes, they probably got there from their technical skills, but some of them shouldn’t be trusted with responsibility over another living human being ROFLOL. 😉 Seriously, very triggering post.
Thanks for dropping by Heng. Yeah, unfortunately many in leadership positions have no business being there.
There are really good bosses out there though…