June 21, 2022
Let me start by saying that I have absolutely loved working for my former company. It was the first time since I started working over 10 years ago that I felt psychologically safe at work, accepted, and celebrated for who I am, and that it looked like what I did mattered to my company (which usually doesn’t or very little in my field).
It was also the first time that I chose to work for a company mindfully. When interviewing with them, it seemed like their values aligned with mine, their remote-first model was decades ahead of most companies, and the team was diverse. And by diverse, I mean it was the first time in my entire career that I was interviewed by a black person. A black person had a say in whether I should get hired or not, I was just mind blown.
When I started working there, I was not disappointed. The company walked the talk. There was no microaggression. I could pitch ideas and implement them. My manager cared beyond measure about our mental health and did an outstanding job supporting us all and leading the team through two years of social isolation, uncertainty, and fear about the future.
This is not to say that everything was perfect. Of course, there were disagreements, technical difficulties, delays, and tensions along the way but the way to deal with these was extremely different than in previous companies I had worked at. People reached out to talk, apologised when needed, and genuinely tried to work with each other in a way that worked for both parties. Believe it or not but I had never experienced such a level of maturity in a company before.
Then things started changing. The team simply stopped getting work. After weeks of begging for information to understand what our next focus should be, leadership showed us a vague list of priorities that indicated that whatever we were doing before wasn’t a priority anymore. My manager quit and another teammate got a new position in another team in the company. Suddenly we had a new manager whose focus was on these new priorities, who had a field of expertise vastly different from ours, and no time to manage us.
What became clear very fast from that moment on was that my role was no longer valued or needed in the new organisation that was slowly being set up behind our back. This article is an attempt at giving some tips on how to handle such situations if they ever happen to you.
The hardest part during this whole ordeal was to believe what was happening to us because it was so insidious. I’d never had a reason to doubt my company’s integrity so far so it didn’t even cross my mind that someone could be withholding information from us on purpose. Surely, it was a mistake, they didn’t mean to come across like that. Not mentioning the gaslighting that was happening whenever we would ask for transparency. Things were just not ready yet and we just had to be “patient”.
Luckily, I’d had 4-5 years of therapy before I worked at this company, and I had some tools that helped me understand the situation a bit quicker than I would have before. When things start to go sideways and you don’t know what to believe anymore, ask yourself this one question: do their actions match their words? If not, chances are you are no longer in an authentic relationship at best, or you are being gaslit at worst. Do not give people the “benefit of the doubt”, believe them the first time it happens.
When my manager quit and my other teammate transferred to another department pretty much at the same time, I understood that I was probably not aware of some things happening in the background and my manager and teammate had made choices for themselves.
I asked myself the following questions when that happened:
This helped me decide what my next steps should be. I wanted to stay in the company, just not in the team or business unit because I didn’t trust the leadership of the latter. It so happened that I had already applied for a new position in another department even before my manager quit, out of pure interest for the opportunity. Now I knew that the best course of action was to actively pursue this opportunity.
Depending on the answers to these questions you could arrive at very different conclusions than me. If your answer is “no” everywhere, looking right away for opportunities outside the company is probably your best option. Alternatively, if you don’t mind having a new manager or you’re interested in learning new things, you might want to stick around for a bit to see how things evolve and if you have opportunities to develop. There’s no wrong answer here, you do you.
Nothing can happen to you without your consent in the workplace. In my case, the internal position I applied for ended up not working out. The offer was downgraded twice. First by the hiring team who wanted me with them but evaluated me at a lower level than the offered position and a second time by human resources, who remembered at the last minute that the company had a rule that no one can skip grades and the position the team was offering me was 2 grades higher than the one I was currently at. Never mind that I would have had the position if I had been an external candidate!
This one was tough. I wanted to get out of my current team, but I also didn’t want to sell off my skills. After thinking it over, I ended up turning down the offer and decided to start applying outside the company. After all, I did not HAVE to accept that offer if it wasn’t what I wanted. I was in an uncomfortable situation in my current team, but they had no power to fire me (labour laws exist!) or change my tasks or my title without my consent. Everything would have to be negotiated with me first.
I used that knowledge to buy myself some time while I was applying to other positions outside the company: I asked my new manager clarity on the role she wanted me to have in her team and to match my current role with a corresponding position in her team setup, which she was hiring for. I gave her the description of my current position (which had been documented by my previous manager), my grade, and asked her to look at the reviews left by my peers on my work during the last employee evaluation round. From that point on, I also did not take any task that I felt did not correspond to my current position or grade (like training her or new recruits on the company product!), which freed some time for interviews. It also sent a strong signal to my employer that I was not about to just accept ANY work that was thrown my way just so it could be used against me in a potential renegotiation of my contract.
Believing in myself is what enabled me to say no to an offer that was not matching what I wanted and to apply for opportunities outside the company. You should do the latter too even if you don’t believe in yourself because I guarantee you will after seeing how other companies see you. In my case, not only did it show me my current value on the job market, but it also made me realise how grossly my company was underestimating my skills. Getting interviews was easy, the salary brackets I got to see were much higher than the one I was in, and I even got contacted for a “Head of” position by a company VP on Linkedin. It made all the difference and enabled me to get an offer I was happy with, a job title I wanted, and to ultimately exit my company gracefully.
Now I know that all this sounds probably “easier said than done” and that no two situations are the same. Maybe you cannot afford to lose your job which adds to your stress, or maybe you feel like you have no options or that you cannot stand up to your company or manager. I am not saying all this is easy. I experienced extreme anxiety, anger, and resentment during this time in my company. I was also very sad because I was so happy in this company at the beginning, and I found myself grieving my manager, my team, and the company successively. If I’m honest, this article is probably my way of processing everything that happened so I can let it go before starting my new job.
My only hope by sharing my experience is that you feel less alone if you’re going through something similar in your workplace. And who knows, maybe you find one or two useful tools in there for your situation. And if nothing stuck with you, I want to leave you with these words: you always deserve better.