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Do You Have a Bad Attitude – or Does Your Job Really Stink?

One of the most common charges employers level against their employees is you have a bad attitude. Now to be fair, that’s sometimes true. We all go through times when our attitudes are in the toilet, and it might be more obvious than we think. But I can’t escape that fact that the bad attitude rap is often overdone. It’s almost as if it’s a catch-all criticism when the boss or someone else in management is looking to take you to the woodshed.

Now in most cases, I don’t think that the you-have-a-bad-attitude claim is an indication that you’re being targeted for elimination. But it’s probably part of a routine beat down that bosses and employers unleash on their people from time to time, maybe to keep them humble – or at least under control..

Do You Have a Bad Attitude - or Does Your Job Really Stink?
Do You Have a Bad Attitude – or Does Your Job Really Stink?

I think that in the majority of cases the bad attitude stems from the fact that your job really does stink. That is, the employer creates the circumstances that cause you to have a bad attitude, and then uses that bad attitude against you. It’s the classic Catch-22, no-win situation.

The Job Market: The Big Picture Reason You Have a Bad Attitude

Bad attitudes are often caused by circumstances beyond the immediate situation. In the case of a job, that would be the job market itself. Despite the rosy (low) unemployment rate being shouted out across the land, the employment situation in many, perhaps most, industries is pretty lean.

There may be a lot of jobs advertised, but getting them runs somewhere between difficult and impossible. Not only do employers demand a laundry list of skills, but the pay ranges tend to be lacking. And few people will make a job change for a similar or lower salary. Automation, off-shoring of jobs, and the rising tide of artificial intelligence are conspiring to put a lid on salaries across a lot of industries.

What it all means, collectively, is that if you’re not happy in your current job, changing jobs is not nearly as easy as the published statistics and talking heads would have us believe. That might even cause the job holder to blame herself for the inability to land a better job.

In most cases however, I don’t think it’s the fault of the job holder. A lot of people want new and better jobs, but they’re just not available. Despite the record low unemployment rate, other statistics paint a much darker picture of what’s really going on in the job market.

Consider the following:

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the number of full-time jobs in the US has grown from about 121 million at the peak of the last economic recovery in 2007, to nearly 126 million as of July of 2017. That’s a gain of about 5 million full-time jobs over the past 10 years. It sounds impressive, at least on the surface.

But during that same time span, the population of the US increased from 301 million in 2007 to 325 million in 2017. That’s a gain of 24 million people.

Now since roughly half the population are in the workforce, we can approximate that the labor force has increased by roughly 12 million people in the last 10 years. Against that kind of increase, 5 million new full-time jobs isn’t nearly as impressive. It begs the question: where are the other 7 million people working?

There are a bunch of theories as to why that is, but it’s likely that most of those “lost” workers found something else to do, whatever that might be. A lot of them simply gave up and left the job market after not finding anything for years. But it’s a testament to the fact that the job market is not nearly as healthy as the cheerleaders claim.

If you have a lousy job situation, but you’re unable to change jobs, you’re stuck. That can cause a bad attitude all by itself.

Many employers, perhaps sensing their employee’s limited outside options, participate in practices that are guaranteed to leave you with the very bad attitude they’ll say you have.

The Cheapest Form of Compensation and the Sense of Betrayal that Follows

A lot of employers are short on increased compensation, but long on promises. In lieu of the raise or bonus that they “can’t give you today”, they promise riches for the future.

At the time such promises are made, an employee can be filled with hope. But eventually the future arrives, and the promises of treasure prove empty. I think that this is a common employer strategy, but one that’s more likely with some employers than others.

The cheapest form of compensation for an employer is a promise. It motivates you and costs the company nothing. You will work extra hard thinking you’ll be eventually be rewarded with raises, bonuses and promotions.

But when the future arrives, either the promise is broken completely, or it turns out to be cosmetic (promotion in title and responsibility, but no raise). “Yes, we know we ‘talked about’ a bonus, but we had a bad quarter and there’s no money in the budget. But next quarter blah, blah, blah…”

An unfulfilled promise is one of the primary reasons for worker dissatisfaction. And a bad attitude.

The Non-Reciprocal Cover For Your Coworker Game

Do you find yourself constantly covering for coworkers who are either bogged down or out sick more than occasionally? We should all expect to cover for our coworkers, as they should for us. But if the situation becomes a one-way street, as well as a regular part of your job, you may have become a fall guy.

Because firing employees has become a legal landmine, many employers carry deficient workers for months and even years. They work around this by dumping the slacker’s work on more productive members of the staff.

If you find yourself being one of those routinely asked to carry the load, and you don’t mind doing it, fine. But just know this: it won’t change. You have been made a designated enabler in your employer’s unofficial policy for Defense Against Lawsuits From Disgruntled and Terminated Employees Policy. (Yes, I made that up 😊, but I DO believe such an unwritten policy exists for many large employers.)

Should you decide that you’re not going to carry the extra responsibilities any more, your employer may decide that you have an attitude problem, or that you’re not a “team player” because of your sudden unwillingness to shoulder 150% or 200% or more of your job, on an ongoing basis.

Here’s the Non-Reciprocal part of the deal: Your employer won’t be hesitant to fire you or to force your resignation (the targeting thing), because they know that productive workers don’t bring lawsuits. Instead, they quietly go on to the next job where they can be productive.

The Promotion Pass-Over Ambush

You’ve been on your job for several years. You’ve been the office go-to person, doing all that you’ve been asked and more. You’ve accepted the broken compensation promises with a smile. You’ve tirelessly played your part in the Non-Reciprocal Cover For Your Coworker Game. Then a promotion opportunity develops that you’d be likely to get according to all objective factors.

But…you don’t get it.

As much as we’d like to believe that promotion rests primarily on merit, if you’ve been in the workforce for at least a few years, you know that isn’t always the case. In fact, it may not even usually be the case!

For a variety of reasons, the person who gets the promotion often isn’t the one who’s the most qualified. Consider the following possibilities:

1) Politics. Employees often advance due to closer connections with higher management. Some people are just better at office politics than others. They’re good at getting close to the decision makers, and like it or not, that does figure into promotion decisions.

2) Image. Often someone else “fits the suit”. That is, he or she may look, act or project “Management” as a matter of style. Management may also be looking for a certain image that a less qualified person better fits. None of us ever wants to believe that one person might be promoted over another because of appearance, but it’s common.

Consider, for example, that multiple studies confirm that tall men earn more money than short or average height men. The reality is that size conveys a certain element of power that isn’t overlooked when leadership qualities are sought.

Consider also that some companies undergo “youth movements” – shake-ups in which younger workers are brought in so that the organization can project a younger, higher energy image.

3) You’re too good at the job you’re doing now. This one is almost a paradox: you’re so good at what you do that management wants you right where you are because promoting you may leave a void that can’t be easily filled. Conversely, your slacker-coworker’s job can easily be filled – ironically – because she isn’t doing it anyway.

Whatever the cause, being passed over for a promotion can easily – and justifiably – lead to a bad attitude.

I Can’t Stay Another Day, But I Can’t Afford To Quit!

With many jobs, the situations described above never get better with time. Some companies just have a negative culture that doesn’t change in spite of your best efforts.

So what can you do?

If you’re dealing with some or all of the above, should you just up and quit your job? Answer: for most people, given the state of the job market, you should not quit a job unless the job is jeopardizing your health or safety, causing you to do something is illegal, or if you have a better opportunity elsewhere.

It’s that last point I want to zero in on, finding a better opportunity.

Yes, the job market is tough, but there are opportunities out there. They’re just harder to find than they have been in a human lifetime. The point is, don’t stop looking just because you haven’t had any luck so far. Keep on looking! If you’re in a bad job situation, looking for the next opportunity may be your link to sanity – that hope for a better tomorrow – that you need to get you through today.

If not much is doing in your field right now, but you can manage the time, find a part time job, or start a side business, doing work you genuinely enjoy, and see what that leads to. Take courses in preparation for something new. Join networking groups in the career of your choice to see what connections you can make. But do something, other than resigning yourself to “accept your fate!”

The key is to create forward motion. That means constantly advancing yourself in the direction of a new job or a new career, if only a little at a time. The fact that you’re doing something gives you at least some sense of control over your own destiny. You may not be able to jump ship right now, but you can prepare yourself for the day when it will finally happen.

Can you relate to any of these situations? If you’re in a job that you really don’t like, and where they’re telling you that you have a bad attitude, what are you doing to improve your situation? Do you stay and “tough it out”, or do you make other arrangements?

( Photo by Symphony of love )

15 Responses to Do You Have a Bad Attitude – or Does Your Job Really Stink?

  1. Hey Kevin, great post. I really like your last point about what to do when you can’t quite but I would like to add that everyone, even if you think your job is secure, should have a backup plan and some savings so that they know what they would do if they lost their job. I have experienced in my own life and seen in others were losing a job can really turn into a blessing over the long haul. Thanks for the post.

  2. Tyler–Excellent add! Just having savings and a back up plan would take a lot of the pressure off in a bad job situation. I think that we often feel stress just because we don’t have those.

    There was a TV commercial a couple of years back, Charles Schwab I believe, that would show some sort of disappointing situation then close with “Always have a back up plan”.

  3. Hi Kevin: I agree with Tyler. Having been there myself, having a decent amount of savings (at least three months) and a back-up plan would save a lot of stress when/if something happens. So many people are just living day to day right now, financially and emotionally, that they don’t realize the stress they’re under. Again, it goes back to living small and simply so you can take better care of yourself and your family. Full disclosure…I’ve been there, didn’t have the above, and the stress was awful for quite a while. Never again.

  4. Hi Bev – Me too – been there, done that, got the teeshirt – several times. I’ve held a lot of jobs in my lifetime (which is why I’m now happily self-employed) and I’ve had more than my share of these kinds of jobs. And I’ve experienced every one of the situations I wrote about. I’ve also seen other people try to work within these situations, spending years working at it, in the hope that it will eventually get better. It never does.

    I think you have to keep trying to move forward until you find that occupation/employer that works for you. We spend too much of our lives working to do anything less. What makes it worse is that if you hang around long enough, you begin to internalize the situation. You get beaten down until you don’t feel able (or worthy) to pick yourself up. You have to take action before it reaches that point.

    In a very real way, a bad job situation is an abusive relationship.

  5. That last line is a winner, Kevin. That’s exactly what it is….you’re abused because they know they can get away with it. We will have to compare teeshirts some day! And see, you do write like Edward Abbey.

  6. Thanks, but I don’t write like Edward Abbey. He wrote like a holy man. I write very much like a mortal man;-) But the abusive relationship point wasn’t a metaphor. I’ve seen people in bad jobs, and abuse is exactly what it was. I worked at a small CPA firm many years ago, where the senior partner would holler at employees on a regular basis as if he was their better. It was abusive, and I left after just 3.5 months on the job. The people who worked there were like abused children, I suppose because anyone who wasn’t had the self-esteem to leave. But I knew from Day 1 that I wasn’t sticking around. Either I’d take the crap and develop health problems, or I’d respond in kind and get fired (most likely outcome given that I snap back when pushed).

  7. As the guy who was the boss of hundreds I never used the A word, attitude that is, not the other one! I’m sure there are places like you describe but I think it would be rare for most managers not to promote the very best person for the job because managers are judged on developing talent. Most of the disgruntled employees I observed were not the best producers. They weren’t good enough,(or didn’t try hard enough) to compete with their peers and got passed by those who were better. That made them even more unhappy and less productive in a vicious cycle. I’m sure it seemed unfair to them but it would have been more unfair to promote a person who wasn’t doing good work over someone who was. I never cared about attitude, just performance.

  8. Hi Steve – That all means that you were one of the good managers. Trust me, there are too many of the other kind. One pattern I noticed is that bosses often don’t promote the best employees as a rearguard defense. There are plenty of marginal managers, and I think they know it too. They see their employees as potential rivals.

    I know good ones are out there, but I suspect there are more who aren’t. I think it also depends on the industry you’re in too. When I was in the mortgage business my thought was that most managers/supervisors were deficient. But then so were most of the companies, evidenced by the fact that most no longer exist. But then I’m aware of a couple of companies right now, neither in the mortgage business, where people have been promoted into positions they clearly can’t handle – but still they’re there. Neither were that good before being promoted, but there they are, moving up the ladder while better workers languish in the trenches.

  9. Like the other commenters said great article as it really covered all the key points. Another way to have a back up plan if in a bad situation is to get a part time job in a place you enjoy working at and sometimes it could turn into a full time position.
    But never make a job make you quit, leave the job at door when you leave premises. When a fellow employee is a slacker, don’t be so quick to take on their work unless you get some pay compensation. They can’t fire you for doing your job effectively and can’t assume you will have no obligations outside of work hours ( you do have a life). Force the management to deal with the slackers.
    It took me most of my work life to realize the power of the word No when used effectively. You don’t get taken advantage of and you gain respect for doing your job.

  10. You’re right Maria, I even have an article somewhere on this site about the power of the word No. We all need to use it more. Of course, you have to be careful not to use it too much, but it’s sometimes an effective way to deal with coworker slackers. But my experience is that employers have a way of subtly getting you to do others work, where your agreement is not actually ever requested. It’s a real balancing act.

  11. True but even there if you word your response correctly, you will gain respect of both your abilities and teamwork plus lesson you being undervalued. The company is all about teamwork which when you qualify why they are passing the load to you you highlight a flaw in group.
    I would respond with making sure that they are okay with paying me the overtime ( compensation) plus make them aware of how much they have had to do this. My slacker coworker had a tendency to have reasons to be off from work 4-5 months of the year using “correct wording ” for the time off plus kept all benefits ( vacation,sick , job status, etc) . Legally by employment laws you have to work a certain number of hours yearly to maintain full time status. Every time I was approached about my overtime costs or lack of using my vacation time, I would mention this, especially when I had to take vacation in days over a year time rather than the a full week. Because I had no real vacation for all the years I worked with this person, I made it my goal to enlighten the management of all the time this person was absent especially when there was a pattern to it( for some reason ignored by HR) . Once HR got involved, this person changed to using “medical” time off to get a month off at a time, using the old ” back problem ” routine. ( lifting a 10 lb box) . I have osteoarthritis diagnosed by my doctor and had multiple notes given in to my managers over the year from the time I had gotten my position. There was only one thing I couldn’t do for job which was shoveling the ice snow for the table because of the strain on my lower back. I at home use a child size shovel to clear walk during the winter when it snows and I do it slowly so it takes me a long time. Since they wanted ice table up within 30 minutes ( whoever decided this never shoveled ice), I had given doctor ‘s note yearly. Osteoarthritis doesn’t go away but some felt that I didn’t appear handicapped enough. Being questioned about this with the lack of concern for the excessive time off coworker made me give management enlightenment while getting me some small overtime payment.
    Actually overtime payment is not really a substitute for time spent with family plus all it does is raise your gross income but gives you very little in net income

  12. I like the term “enlightenment” Maria! But I do have to point out that in your situation, with the coworker being out for months at a time, the situation was more cut and dry. What I experienced, as well as others I’ve known, is that “Jane” didn’t finish her work yesterday, and we need to get it out of here. Or the department was supposed to process 24 files yesterday, but only did 20 – because instead of doing her assigned load of 6 files, Jane only completed two of them (a fact that management was careful not to disclose, but we all knew from the production logs). That process played out 2-3 times per week. Or the department is behind – because Jane came in two hours late twice this week, and was out a full day last week, but no one’s allowed to discuss or challenge her “issues”. Do you see what I’m talking about? That’s what I mean by subtle, and where it never came down to being asked, but rather required.

    Here’s another very blatant example. I worked for a mortgage lender that had eight underwriters (loan approval). The dept manager came into my office one day and showed me the results of production. I was the highest producer, having handled 200+ cases that month. “Sue” was the lowest producer that month, with just 80. She was always the lowest producer so it was no surprise. Two years later, me and the other six underwriters had left the company. Only one underwriter remained – you guessed it – Sue.

    BTW, those two situations were both real, and both at different companies. And those are just two examples of what I’m talking about. (Names changed to protect the guilty.)

  13. Companies which tolerate poor performers as acceptable and spread the load over the rest of the coworkers tend in the long term to lose business. The company I worked for went out of business through bankruptcy and I did look for other employment but found I was hitting the age bias, wanted my skills but didn’t want to pay me for them at other job offerings, so I stuck it out, having no prospects. Like you said don’t leave a job without another lined up.
    Whatever reason those poor performers were being tolerated, I can only hope what they got from that poor performers was worth losing better employees because it did nothing for the job. Some people just know the right words to get away with murder at work with poor performance and most people don’t realize they are being “conned” into acceptance of poor performance, hence we don’t talk about this rule. Your ” Jane “probably used the PLA ( Parental Leave Act )ruling to her advantage, and probably threatened a law suit of harassment if not tolerated. I have seen a whole lot of PLA used to have every weekend and early leave every Friday off, when you know that person is just partying all weekend. Never overheard conversations about how great the weekend was ? How many weekends do you just party having kids of your own? Just my viewpoint.

  14. Actually, “Jane” wasn’t using parental leave, she was just out whenever it was convenient for her. And she wasn’t the only one. In large companies things like this happen and no one can or will do anything about it. It’s not uncommon. That’s one of the reasons I never fit in at large employers. Too many arbitrary rules, arbitrary enforcement (that rule doesn’t apply to her, but you must observe it or face discipline), too much busy work and wasted energy directed at someone’s pet project.

    As far as going out of business, the company where Jane was did close up their regional location, though they’re still on the national level. The company where “Sue” is is still there. Big companies can screw up a lot and still continue in business. Also remember that some of these companies were TARP bailouts, so they can make mistakes and still keep going.

    Not so funny story on weekend partying. A coworker of my daughter called out sick one day in the summer. Being maybe 20 years old she posted her trip to the beach the very same day on Facebook. She was fired the next day. Young people don’t get that the social media is SOCIAL – as in everyone can see it. It’s not their private sandbox.

  15. Yeah, social media is now used by employers to further scan for “correct ” employees another under the books discrimination. Social media should be only to those you consider close contacts, even Instagram is blocking trolling of nasty remarks. Unless you are a celebrity/ company/etc., there’s no reason to have so many followers. I , personally use only Twitter with private setting and block off people I find offensive to me.
    But in the setting you worked in, someone buttered their superiors well to be able to get away with not following the rules of work team work. Their moment in the sun is not forever.

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