The Enemy of the Good (eideteker) wrote,
The Enemy of the Good

On abusive relationships

From MetaFilter:

Starting my new job (1 month tomorrow, yay!) has made me realize how my last two jobs were abusive relationships. So this article comes at the right time for me. I never realized how bad it was til I found I felt like flinching every time my current (awesome!) boss came over to talk to me. I realized I was wincing like someone in an abusive relationship (not to trivialize) expecting the worst; thinking, "what did I do wrong this time?"

My last full-time job (with benefits) came with a terrible price. Everyone in the company liked me, got along with me, and generally respected me with the exception of my direct boss. For some reason, Sales & Marketing decided they should own (and I do mean own) the technical writer. Despite the fact that I consider myself a documentation engineer/information developer (though I'd never use those terms; suffice to say my job is much more technical than sales), despite the fact that the majority of my work was with engineers, and despite the fact that I got into this field in the first place because most of my friends in college were engineers and my special skill is translating Engineer to English (I'm like xkcd but funny!). I work with engineers, I think like an engineer (though my language is English, not C#/Java/perl), and I work like an engineer (complete with estimates, bugfixes, and reporting to a project manager).

Despite all this, I'm working for Sales. I came to this field (making quite the career change) from Sales because I hate the treadmill. But I was really thankful for the job, so it's not like I bore a huge chip on my shoulder coming into the job. I came in humble, eager, and energized. And right away, I knew something was up. In a very laid-back, startup atmosphere, my boss did not fit the culture at all. Which led to conflicts between departments be played out through me. And then there was the micromanagement.

Because my cube was the only one backing onto an open hallway, there was a privacy screen. I kept it open except at lunch. When taking lunch at my desk, I figured it was okay if I weren't continually looking over my shoulder at the people walking behind me. No, I wasn't doing anything inappropriate, I'm just twitchy and don't like not being able to see who's coming up behind me. My boss demanded I keep the screen open at ALL TIMES (then why is there a screen in the first place if you're not meant to use it?). I talked to him first, then to some other folks at the company, the result of which was that I got moved to an empty cube in Engineering (yes! small victory!).

But then I had my PHB moment when he asked me to change the wording in a document, then hated it on revision and came up with a brilliant idea which was (surprise) the way I'd originally written it. He was needlessly nitpicky when editing my writing, almost like he was suggesting changes so it would look like he was contributing, changing, controlling, or just all-around doing more work than he needed to do. The net effect was that he created busy work for both of us (which, at least with regards to my time, slowed down the projects I was on). Fastidiousness in written communication is important, don't get me wrong, but editing is not just suggesting changes for change's sake.

And speaking of net, the business-speak jargon got to me. "Can you net-out your learnings from that meeting?" I'm not going to turn this into a rant against MBAspeak, but suffice to say that stuff has no business (heh) near documentation written for clarity and simplicity. It's just not a fight worth having every. single. time.

My next real job was abusive in a different sense. My boss was evasive, absent. The micromanagement was still there, but it was different. I would be left alone for long stretches of time before my boss would appear and ask to see what I was working on. She would review my current draft of the guide, disappear again, and then come back half a day to a day later requesting I do the whole thing over but in a different style. At one point, she handed me a glossy brochure (obviously produced by a professional company using something better than the MSWord I was saddled with) and asked me to make it look like that. If you're anywhere near publishing or technical writing, you probably have an idea how laughably impossible this is.

In the intervening year, I'd been going to regular therapy, so I was able to push back a bit at this point. So I explained to my boss about desktop publishing software and how while you can do lots of cool stuff with Word (it's not bad software, but it's the wrong software; she was asking me to pound nails with the butt of a screwdriver), that there's a whole different echelon of stuff out there for doing what she was looking for. And it turned out what she was looking for in a tech writer was a hybrid between desktop publishing graphic design virtuoso and glorified typist. With regards to the latter, it was a case of asking me to typeset a cross between the existing developer documentation and her dictates. I finally had to ask her why she hired a technical writer when she didn't want me to, y'know, write. About a week later, she was fired.

But my job didn't end there! I spent about two days trying to figure out what had happened. I was only in communication with one other person (project manager, very nice guy I used as a reference at my current job) who was on several different projects. It wasn't until the following week's group conference call where I got more of the story, and even then it was a few days (over a week total time now that I'd been "stuck" without the ability to go forward or do meaningful work; time spent sitting on my hands on the company's dime due to poor organization—and not for lack of trying on my part!) before I was reassigned to another manager. This fellow was overworked, but still made time for me, though he pawned me off a bit on the project manager. And through the project manager, suddenly I was awakened to this whole other world. There was a whole ecosphere of people working on this project that I had been kept from. And they were so happy to have me, and so eager for my feedback. It was like a new job, a great job! But it wasn't perfect, as soon my contract ran out and they renewed me for another 6 weeks on an "as needed" basis. Basically, they were 6 weeks from the next project milestone but only had the budget to pay me for another 4 weeks. It was a shitty economy. What could you do?

Now, several months later) I'm in my new job. And it still takes some getting used to. It's pretty much what the first scenario for how to keep someone describes. But I keep waiting for the facade to fall away (which is part of the dark side of the "hope" the author mentions... you're perpetually afraid of good times ending). So even though I've left those bad situations, in a sense, they're still with me.

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