Firings, probation periods, and rejections all suck, and they all come with the territory of office life. Unless you're very lucky, you'll likely face an uncomfortable job moment or two at some point in your career. But fear not; survival is guaranteed. In his new book, venture capitalist, college president, speaker, and author Richard Moran describes hair-raising work scenarios nobody ever wants to experience—and offers insights to make them less awful.
In a perfect world, work would be, well, perfect. We'd spend our days immersed in stimulating projects with coworkers we like and respect, our skills would be a perfect fit for the tasks at hand, and we'd be well compensated for our labors. But in the "real world," work is anything but that. More often we're alternately bored or stressed out, our coworkers are irritating, passive-aggressive, or outright mean, and we won't even talk about the inadequacy of our paychecks. And sometimes standard work situations can be downright awful. No one addresses these painful moments with more accuracy and wry humor than Rich Moran.
"If you've spent any substantial amount of time holding down a job, you'll realize just why they call it work," says Moran, author of The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-62956-158-5, $22.95). "Certain career experiences are dreadful to either go through or watch someone else go through. Or if you're lucky enough to be the boss—or unlucky enough, as the case may be—you may have the 'pleasure' of putting an employee through one or more of these unpleasant rites. Whether you're on the giving or receiving end of them, sucky work moments are here to stay, and we all have to learn to deal with them with a degree of class and dignity."
With shrewd insight and wit, Moran covers the most cringeworthy moments you're likely to encounter at some point in your career. From performance review disasters to awkward freeze outs, he reveals those difficult work situations many of us will encounter at some point or another—and puts them into a healthy perspective so you can either endure them, repair the damage, or move on to something better.
Keep reading for Moran's review of the worst parts of work life and his take on how to keep them in perspective.
You're facing the double-secret probation thing.
Probation is a word we don't hear much anymore when it comes to work. Too bad, though, because the concept is still very much in place. When you start out at a new job, be aware that your every move is being scrutinized; every email is important, what you say in a meeting matters, and how well you work in a team is most certainly being examined. Luckily, probationary periods are temporary (whew!) and are useful for you as well. Keep in mind that this time under the microscope also gives you a chance to figure out whether or not you want to be a part of your new organization.
Your team is freezing you out.
You may be on the outs at work if any or all of the following is true: A. You're no longer being included on email distribution lists. B. You're no longer invited to meetings. C. Colleagues have stopped chatting with you in the coffee room. If it's clear that you're working in a polar vortex of your own making, you need to figure out what went wrong and make some changes pronto. The change involves whatever behavior or circumstance pushed you out into the cold in the first place. Change is always a difficult proposition but it could save you from a worse circumstance when you are thrown OUT into the cold.
You get a bad performance review.
When annual performance review time is over, everyone is thankful to whatever God they worship. While performance reviews occasionally go well, more often than not they range from uncomfortable to excruciating. Most people are just glad to have the process over with so they can move on. And that is exactly the lesson to be learned from the annual review process—move on. Never get wrapped up in coulda, woulda, shoulda. Those who seem to be the most successful and happy at work are the ones who know how to move on. Join that club.
You need to resign.
Resigning is never fun but it must be done before you move on to better opportunities. Further, there is a right and a wrong way to design. The right way is to do it quickly. Resignations shouldn't take long. Be appreciative and never, ever burn any bridges. You will be surprised where your boss and coworkers show up later. Resist the temptation to list all of the things you would fix if you were in charge of the place. And don't throw your boss under the bus either. You're on your way out and should be looking forward to your next gig.
You're getting f&$%#d (fired, that is).
"The last time I got fired was during a training exercise for everyone except me," says Moran. "That is, an 'up and comer' needed to learn how to properly terminate someone. I was that someone. They said, 'We are going to discontinue your service here.' It happens every day, probably millions of times. Someone is getting fired and someone else is doing the firing."
If you really screwed up and did something that warrants being fired, then take your medicine and get out of there as fast as you can. But most people get fired for other reasons or no reason. Just take the severance and get out of there. Nothing will be gained by sticking around or trashing the boss's career—you won't get the job back.
Here's the secret: Being fired can be good for your career. It will definitely bring humility into your life. Your sudden change in job status can bring some perspective about that job that you thought defined you. It can provide an opportunity to take stock and see what adventures lie ahead. It could give you the chance to do what you really want.
Getting fired leads to a whole different set of unfun experiences as you seek to trade your old job with a hopefully less sucky new one:
You're on a (seemingly endless) job hunt.
"A lot of people think looking for a job is the most onerous thing in the world," says Moran. "I say job hunting is a lot like fishing. Without any bait in the water, you won't catch any fish. And the more bait, the more fish catching is possible. And you need to have the right fishing gear and be prepared for what the fish are biting on. The thing is, like fishing, job hunting requires lots of patience. Most days you might not catch any fish, and you need to be prepared for that. But I recommend you make the most of the fish you catch. Even the small fish may tide you over until the big one jumps in the boat."
You keep getting hit with the "U" word.
When you're in the middle of a job search, getting rejected stinks. When this happens, you'll hear the word "UNFORTUNATELY" a lot. No matter what is said before or after that word, it means rejection. As in, Mr. Jones, you are the best thing to come along since cheese graters, but unfortunately... you know how it continues. Another critical word is "PLEASED." As in, Ms. Smith, we are pleased to invite you in for an interview or, better yet, We are pleased to offer you this great job. Never give up and eventually you'll receive a "pleased" instead of an "unfortunately."
"Navigating sucky workplace moments isn't always easy, but if you can approach them with a little humor and perspective, you'll be better off," concludes Moran. "The beauty of it is that no one's going to stop you from doing something purposeful with your life—even if you mess up or take a few wrong turns along the way. No matter what happens, you can always brush yourself off and get back to work."
Richard Moran is the current president of Menlo College in Atherton, California, and the author of The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters. Inspired by his experience and accomplishment in the world of business, the book provides accessible advice for all-level employees from an insider perspective that changes how we think about work. For more information, visit www.richardmoran.com.