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..
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?