Some Warning Signs You’re About To Be Terminated

This article is featured today in Helium‘s front page. I wrote about it a few months ago and forgot about it. Getting fired is never fun, even when it’s in a bad job situation, but it is fair game for material. It was approximately one year and a week ago when I was hired in that awful job with that awful boss, and I’ll have to see you next Tuesday if you want my opinion on her. It was my first and only time working in an office environment. I’m allergic to cubicles, among many things, as a result.

I have only been fired from one job in my life. It was my first time working in an office environment and I was not apparently a good fit. I went from teaching to running a mail room and a lot of mistakes were made. I tried to take it in stride as I was new to the job and the stress and the mistakes were a part of it. I went through a 90 day probation period and still had my job. However, my employer was not happy. There were a few signs, especially right towards the very end.

1. Delegation of responsibilities to others. Some of my responsibilities were taken away at an early stage and given to my boss’s administrative assistant. This occurred during the 90 day probation period, so I didn’t think much of it. However, this was definitely the first sign of doubt my employer had in me.

2. Someone screaming for termination. I had to make a rush order to the printer for an event. After the printing, it needed to be mailed out by a certain deadline by an outsourced mail house, which it wasn’t. The person in charge of the event was not happy with me at all and yelled at my boss to fire me. While they did not fire me at that moment, the incident certainly lingered in the mind of my boss and reinforced earlier doubts.

3. Management withholding resources. The company recently moved to another office, where new resources were needed. A security system for doors at the office’s entrance was installed, and a coded key to be scanned at the doors was required. The accountant, who was in charge of issuing the keys, refused to issue me one, saying “There are going to be some changes and some people are going to be fired.” While my name wasn’t mentioned and he even said “It’s not a reflection on you,” his roundabout phrasing indicated I was going to get fired.

4. Being isolated by others. The receptionist was one of the most popular people at the office. Whenever a co-worker was facing termination, the receptionist was instructed to keep her distance. I became good friends with her while working at the office, but a month before I was fired, I was instructed to keep my distance from her. A roundabout reason was given that didn’t seem to fit. However, I did feel very isolated from her and the people that now formed her clique.

5. Micromanagement. When I received an e-mail from my boss asking that I send her weekly reports, I knew I was in trouble. I was never required to keep a log detailing weekly activities before and the only logs I turned in before were those that recorded mailings. My boss’s request for a weekly report indicated I was being watched. At first, she said she needed it because she was out of the office a lot, but she bluntly told me some time later she did not know what I did with my time.

6. Unexplained changes in management’s behavior. At one point, I made a mistake in photocopying a document to be mailed out, resulting in a few thousand that could not be mailed out. My boss was furious and yelled at me without inviting me to close her office door when meeting with her. She was openly hostile. The next time I reported to work, she was extremely nice to me leading up to my firing two weeks later. Essentially, management had to cover their tracks and avoid a hostile firing.

7. Unofficial warning. A few of the other signs were in place when this occurred. However, this is one that hit me over the head. The accountant, a member of the management team, pulled me aside on day and issued me an unofficial warning that “some people” were not happy with me and wanted me fired. While he was not my direct supervisor, he essentially gave me an informal performance review, which was not good. I tried to improve my job performance; however, I knew I had to shop my resume out.

8. Changing of the locks. In my case, it was the locks on my cubicle file drawers and cabinets. I saw a new lock on my desk on termination day. While this should have been obvious, this went over my head until I was fired later in the day.

These warning signs are some of the things I observed before getting canned. You may experience some of these same things, or you may have a slightly different experience.

If you’re able to get another job lined up whenever the proverbial handwriting is on the wall, do it. Jumping ship before you get fired saves you from telling your new employer why you got fired. Unemployment takes a while to process, so the new job also saves you from this hassle. Work the resume. Use all the sites and resources you can within the time you have. Don’t just quit unless you have another job to go to.

Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty tells off management and wittily coerces them into giving him a nice severance package, but remember this is a fantasy scenario in a movie. If you are in a meeting about your firing, handle yourself in a civil manner and ask about what kind of reference they are going to give you. Severance may be in the discussion, though that is something you would want to take to an attorney.

Read the “handwriting,” so to speak. The time you’re getting clues about getting the axe is a good time to evaluate if this is the job you want. You may have taken the job, not because it’s your passion, but for the pay. Look into what you want to do and go after it. Getting fired has a way of making people examine their career choices; however, the examination should occur earlier.

It’s A Wrap!

The summer school session at the community college is over (for me, anways)! The course load was concentrated, but so are the paychecks. There were so many early mornings where the students and I were so not awake, but we made it.

Most of my students did well. I had those few students who wrote well at the freshman level and who intelligently chimed in to the class discussions. It was nice to see one student in particular get excited about the material covered in class.

However, I am concerned about a few, especially their future as college students. All one student did was go to sleep in the back of the classroom. I don’t think he ever participated in class or showed any embarrassment when I had to wake him up in an attempt to involve him in the class discussion. Interestingly enough, he was worried about his grade towards the end. I have yet to receive a term paper from another student, despite her promise to send it to me ASAP.

I have until next Thursday to turn in grades, most of which I already have done.

I learned a few lessons this summer, much of it reinforcement from previous lessons:

  1. Never get behind. Grade those papers the day I get them. In fact, I should grade them after class or when I get home from work that day. Also, be on point with the lessons and not play catch up on lesson plans.
  2. Don’t accept late work. I am not doing this to be a meanie, but it is a nightmare to backtrack, try to look at an assignment when the class and I have moved on to something else.
  3. Take care of myself. If I manage my time right, I get my work done, get some exercise, take care of what life asks of me, and get the rest I need in order to function for all of the above.
  4. Remember that it’s only a job. I should do it well (most excellently), but no job is worth taking over my life.

Next week, I go back to the language school for a couple of weeks. I am substituting for an instructor’s advanced level course and I got to meet the students this morning. They seem like a nice bunch of students, but the instructor told me it’s difficult to get them to do homework. Each group is different. They are mine next Monday.

I also got to see some familiar faces, such as Julius (Joo Seung AKA Ju Ju) and a few others. Perhaps once again, there’ll be a picture of me diagramming sentences.

Bad Bosses

One of Chris‘s posts a few days ago got me thinking on this topic.

This is definitely one where I have to bite my tongue (or in this case, my fingers as I type). God knows I’ve had my share of bad bosses. I’ll try to be as vague as possible to protect myself and the guilty. If a member of the press asked my opinion of any of them, mentioning them by name, I would just smile and say something blandly positive.

The question is, where do these people come from? Bad bosses, like good bosses, come from all sorts of places. They may have worked their way out of the rank and file, gone to management school, come into a job with a degree, come into their respective positions with a sparkling resume, or even received an election or an appointment to lord over you. Given that, the Peter Principle is in effect.

Or, the Peter Principle doesn’t apply. They didn’t get plucked out of the crowd of laborers and they got into their job because they were highly qualified. They looked great on paper. However, they turned out to be psychopaths.

“Do as I say, not as I do” is their maxim. They can be grossly incompetent, but heaven forbid you following their lead. One boss I had never read the reports I gave her, but misinformed the accountant about being caught up (when my report showed evidence to the contrary). Also, she seemed incapable of hiring someone properly qualified to do my job, as several previous people proved to be unsatisfactory. I wonder if this has changed at all, but I’m no longer there to lose sleep over it or her for that matter.

Bad bosses are often verbally abusive. Another boss (years ago) was high strung and yelled at everyone. One time, I did not meet the dress code and I was upbraided not just once, but twice. He screamed at me about how unprofessional I was. Needless to say, when he got a heart attack, no one was sorry it happened. He came back, not changed by the experience and continued in his assholiness.

An employee’s personal boundaries are often ignored by bad bosses. While this boss may have been the most highly educated than the other examples, he proved to be just as charming. He called me at home at 10:30pm to get on my case about how I did not do a task according to procedure. After having him rant and holler in my ear, I hung up. The phone rang again, but I didn’t answer it. When I left that job, I was inspired to get caller ID for my landline.*

The lesson learned from of having my worklife punctuated by bad bosses? Definitely know what my rights are concerning them. Perhaps the most fitting way to deal with them is to walk away, leaving them mired in unfinished projects. However, that’s bad karma for the employee. Talk to their bosses, talk to HR, hold a tape recorder in front of them during meetings, or get an attorney. Maybe all of the above are necessary actions. I know I never have to put with it again.

*Before I had a mobile phone. In an era of mobile phones, I wonder about the wisdom of giving your boss your number. Better to call them than to have them call you.


You’re Fired…

Actually, I don’t think that expression made famous by Donald Trump is ever used at the workplace. Terminated is the term typically used when getting rid of an employee, which should have more of a euphemistic and technical ring to it. But if you grew a saw a certain movie in the 1980’s (and its sequels) starring the current governor of California, then the word has a completely different connotation altogether.

Some time ago, I got a job as a mail room manager at a small labor union. I was starving on a part-time teacher’s paycheck and this job was full time, so I readily accepted it after the interview. It was the first time I really worked in an office environment. While I had a stint as a professor’s assistant in graduate school, it did not prepare me for this. I was accustomed to classrooms and a little bit of time in the office. The professor’s office was a like a monk’s cell with the luxury of isolation, unless someone had to stop by to see me. Working at the labor union was nine to five, Monday through Fridays, and full of co-workers whose camaraderie was built through break-times, visits to the water cooler, stop-by office visits, lunchtimes, and e-mails sent to each other to relieve the boredom. The pay was good and I liked working with the people, so I couldn’t complain.

Oh, but there was something to complain about. Or a lot to complain about. My department was a mess. The person I was replacing hardly did any training because she was lazy and indifferent. She was moving to Virginia or Texas after finding true love on MySpace. After her final day, I found myself saddled with projects left behind by her and the IT manager (also recently departed and not replaced). The large folder-inserter machine daunted me and my assistant and our attempts to use it proved it to be an unwieldy machine. It would be a couple of months before either of us learned to use it. The envelope printer was also intimidating. Its software wasn’t user friendly, and I discovered I could use a simple mail merge function on MS Word to print addresses two months later. The next few months would definitely be very stressful.

One decision I made was to not blog about the office. I heard stories about people blogging about work and getting fired. It is interesting what power the threat of termination has on people at the workplace. Personal expression seems is often a very big casualty of the axe that hangs over employee’s heads. Personal style is usually one of the first things to go, because one has to dress appropriately for the workplace. Mohawks, piercing, tattoos (among many things) have little bearing on work performance, yet people censor themselves by not getting a haircut they like, removing piercings, or covering up tattoos in order to fit it. Speech is a much bigger issue than one’s appearance. Many fantasize about telling their bosses to take this job and shove it, but never do. But what about standing up to the boss if one feels the boss is being unreasonable and/or they are being treated unfairly? Workplace bullying goes on because employees are afraid of rocking the boat, which most likely leads to getting fired. Given that personal expression must be sacrificed in workplace culture, I refrained from blogging at work. However, I didn’t speak up for myself at the office when I should have, and that is a much bigger regret.

A month before my termination from the labor union, I found out from an unofficial, but reliable source that some people wanted me fired. I wasn’t sure who all of “some people” were, but I knew it included my boss. Receiving this news was extremely stressful. The idea that I might get fired only had the power to whip me into compliance for one and a half weeks. I tried bargaining with the job, tried to be a better worker, and even rehearsed a conversation with my boss in my head about why I shouldn’t be fired, but all of this just made me more stressed out and depressed about my situation. The final blow came when I messed up on printing something to be mailed and my boss yelled at me about it. When I came into the office to discuss it with her, I was not invited to close the door, and it was humiliating to know that her administrative assistant, the accountant, and the bookkeeper most likely heard everything. While I decided a few days before that I simply needed to find a new job, this incident made it more imperative. I called in sick the next day (which I was), but when I was awake, I worked on my resume and my career site profile. Strangely, my boss was nice to me after I returned to work. This would last up to the moment I got fired. However, I lost my will to be there at that point, so I was simply collecting a paycheck until I found another job or the dirty deed was done.

I really don’t know why I was emotional the day I was fired. The loss of a livelihood may be a good explanation, but I don’t believe that is the reason. I really didn’t want to be there. It was a job I didn’t care about, despite my earlier efforts to do so. The answer was found in one of my conversations with a friend of mine: Getting fired was a very powerful form of rejection. In other jobs that I had where it did not work out, I left them. I worked in a supermarket for over a decade, and I hated it. It paid my way through college, but I did not want to work in a bakery (or any other grocery job) for the rest of my life. I had job security and benefits, but at one point, I had to decide the stress and putting up with a job I hated wasn’t worth it. I gave a two week notice and never looked back. When I was in graduate school, my stint as the professor’s assistant started out well, but became a nightmare job in the end. At the end of the last semester I worked for him, I wrote a polite resignation letter, turned in my office key, and walked away from the job. I rejected them. The company I recently worked for, however, rejected me.

As a writer, I learned that rejection is a basic fact of life. When I took creative writing courses, I realized my writing wasn’t for everyone. Also, sending writing to be published reinforced that. A poem I thought was good may have not been what the journal or magazine was looking for. When a work gets rejected, I should just simply move on and shop it out to someone else. The same lesson holds true for careers.

First post since the Jeremy Enigk show

One of those issues with writing is sticking to it regularly. I fell off the wagon, so to speak, with this since I do have a full time job I spend a lot of time at. I felt at times all I do is wake up, go to work, come home and sleep, and it starts all over again the next day. I could spend some time, a few minutes a day writing, but I’ve used the excuse that work has taken my energy to do it.

I have to go throught the If You Want To Go To Grad School series to see where I left off. I haven’t quite finished it yet, nor have I gotten to where I want with it. It was my first exercise in writing creative non-fiction.

I’m still under the self-imposed gag-order to not write about work. In my private life, I have spoken a lot about what goes on in a day to day basis with close friends, but not in a public medium like this. I can’t help feeling tempted, however, to post stories about it here. But, I would have to post them anonymously.

I’ve lived in the Cortez Hill neighborhood in Downtown San Diego for close to five years. Definitely some stories here.

Stay tuned…

OK, I’m back

How long does it take to write a post? Not long, but I’ve been putting it off for a while.

Due to the demand of a very loyal readership, I’m writing this post.

A lot has happened. I’ve recently got a non-teaching job (which pays the bills). I won’t say more as I’ll try to avoid blogging about the workplace. Since it is a full-time job, I spend 40+ hours at the office and things about the operations of the company and the people who work there are very sensitive subjects. I’ve dealt a lot with my frustrations making a living teaching by making small posts about it and posting articles from The Chronicles of Higher Education. It is the first time I’ve actually had a full-time job, so some things I’m dealing with are quite new. So, perhaps something will be posted, but not about the office.

Last week, I got to be a guest speaker at my friend Ella’s creative writing class. I put in a full day at the office, dressed in black. I was planning to do a PowerPoint presentation of my thesis, Resplendence, for the class, but I forgot to bring my flashdrive when I took my computer with me to work. I did not have the presentation, and I downloaded excerpts from my personal website to read the stories. I also downloaded two entries from this blog. I had done a couple of guest reader appearances for Ella’s husband, also an English teacher, but this one was much more successful than the ones I did for him. I read the first two stories about my narrator and his obsession with the Gold Lady and the entry from my blog. The students loved it and asked me tons of questions of what I liked to read and what influenced it. I also read the blog entry about my first time teaching, so they got to hear my take on writing, reading, teaching, and students. Ella then had the class create their own visual narratives and even steered them towards a coming lesson in writing about the personal. I liked that she played David Sedaris’s performance of “I Like Boys” while everyone was creating an art project.

More to come soon. I’ll catch you all up on some other things. Ciao.

If You Want To Go To Grad School (Part 12)

This post picks up where Part 11 left, exploring the writing workshop with Joe, AKA Professor Joseph K. Dr. Jules had managed to break my confidence. I also felt lost as a writer.

A young writer faces many challenges. The main challenge (which the others fall under) is the issue of material. Many young writers have not had much life experience, yet they absolutely want to write. No doubt they burn with energy and desire to create something and say something, to show others how they see things. Some have incredibly fertile imaginations, while others don’t. Many writers fall between the two. As a result, there is much experimenting to find one’s voice. One story form is tried after another, narrators change persons, characters become gay (or something else to make them interesting), attempts at cleverness are tried, and writers attempt to write in literary language. And a young writer is often not grounded to withstand other influences.

In the workshop, these influences are praise and criticism. It’s easy for a writer to become sloppy with her writing if she gets praise and little else. She may keep going, making the same crucial error after crucial error, because no one points it out to her. Praise is definitely a confidence booster, but it can also cause an ego trip. Criticism is an often misunderstood word. Criticism can (and often) comes across as tearing someone down. It’s associated with maliciousness and there is often malice by people who employ criticism in this manner. Ideally, criticism for the writer should be constructive, to help them make their works better. A good critic has an idea of what the writer is trying to say and addresses it.

I often received praise from Joe in the beginning. He praised me for my scholarship, my comments in class, and for my creativity in during the first half of the limbo year. It definitely raised my confidence. I’ve never been a good literary scholar. I wasn’t bad; I often received B+’s in literature courses and sometimes I had those moments where I wrote or said something highly original in those classes. Perhaps I wasn’t skilled in the language of literary analysis, I didn’t read the texts hard enough, or a combination of both. There was one case in undergraduate school where we had an essay quiz on Othello. I read the act, but a classmate came in and hadn’t. I gave her a synopsis of the act and then we took our quizzes. I got a B and she got an A. It was through sheer imagination she got through the quiz, and it made me wonder if some “A” students in literature were better at talking their way through it. Given this, I had managed to impress Joe in his literature courses. I always knew I was higher in the creative side, but had little confidence. Often, my fellow students did not get what I was trying to do with the stuff I presented in workshops. Sometimes the teacher didn’t get it either. Joe seemed to grasp what I was about when I first presented a story to him. Or did Joe simply form an idea that he had about me?

So, when I presented the work that amended my portfolio, Joe had high praise for it. He even presented careful line edits. But this seemed to decline as the semester progressed. Joe never even sent me an in absentia response for the second story (reviewed by the class while he was away for a reading). When Gillian and I did an e-mail exchange using the personas of Edie Sedgwick and Valerie Solanis, he gave me a mixed response – I got Solanis’s obsessiveness but lacked the panache. His response to my third story was lukewarm. As I mentioned in the previous post, I did not take it well.

It was difficult to hear other writers get praised at this time, especially Harlan, Jill, and Dr. Jules. They weren’t great, but it seemed important to stroke these novices. Sometimes, this form of positive reinforcement can lead to disappointment. Joe praised the work of someone in a previous workshop and she sent it to the journal for consideration. I read the story, but I really didn’t like it. Since she knew Joe, I passed it on to him and he rejected it. I don’t know how she took it, but it certainly must have been a shock. Joe did give me helpful comments, but I don’t think I was really listening. Instead, I fought within myself about being jealous for cheap praise.

I mentioned in the previous post that Dr. Jules’s comments destroyed me. If a writer has little confidence, then it is possible to let the mean comments of others get to them. In one of his moments of wisdom, Joe told me that I shouldn’t worry about what others think of me. In Bonnie Friedman’s Writing Past Dark, she mentions a Chinese proverb that says if one worries about someone’s approval, then they are their prisoner. It’s easy to let the Dr. Jules of the world take us prisoner. Then there are people less malevolent than Dr. Jules, the peers of the workshop. If the story is written to meet their approval, then it ceases to be a story. It’s a stripped down version of the story. Regardless of how the criticism is delivered, a writer needs to be careful. A thick skin helps. But the ability to see if it is useful or useless criticism is more important.

It was hard for me to listen, to filter out what was helpful. It was also difficult for me to stay focused. I was busy commuting to an east county community college for a tutoring gig, doing whatever was needed with Professor K’s journal, and doing work for “Madness In Literature” seminar. There was no real time to develop studio habits. I was successful with a literary experiment, but how could I keep it up, once it demanded that I continue the story?

I think this is where the decline started. I don’t think I was being served as a writer. I was busy serving Joe. I knew Jackson was getting served and he was becoming friends with Joe. I felt I had to work to get Joe’s approval. Jackson didn’t. Or perhaps he was serving Joe by being in his orbit. I remember feeling resentful at one point, but swallowed it. Like any poision, the resentment would not go away. It was deep inside and it would only be a matter of time before I was aware of it again. But that was months away.

At the end of the semester, Tomas asked me to e-mail everyone to announce his graduation party. Holly sent me an interesting response. She joked that it seemed that Joe was farming out my services and that there should be a labor union set up for me. I chuckled, but a year later, I wished there was a union to mediate between Joe and me. And a year after that, I would help Stevie do the groundwork for a graduate student workers’ union at the University.

To be continued…