There’s the airport where you strip down to your hosiery to get “wanded” and delayed into ever-receding departure times. Once aloft, there’s the indignity of spreading processed cheese on a cracker with a red plastic stick. The last straw for brokerage-firm account manager Anne Marie McClaran came three months ago and didn’t seem like the end-of-the-road moment it became.
She was trying to complete three different projects while being barraged by phone calls and emails. Then, one of her co-workers asked her nicely for help. Normally, she would have been happy to provide it, but not that day. “I just wanted to turn around and take a swing at him. And I wanted to yell and scream at the top of my lungs. And I wanted to hurl my computer and my phone through the window,” McClaran says.
She had thought about quitting before, but fear had held her back. Still, after 10 years on the job, she had migraines and neck aches and was frequently irritable. “It doesn’t do me any good to have a secure future if I don’t have any future,” she says. So, even though she had no savings-account cushion, she walked into her boss’ office and quit.
Everyone knows that the best way to leave an old job is to start a new one. But there can come a point when no job, no matter how financially necessary, is better than the last one. And despite all the good advice about lining up new work, stockpiling emergency funds and avoiding rash decisions, some people do discover that the devil they don’t know is better than the one they do.
It’s hard to predict your breaking point, particularly when work-oriented platitudes can cause self-doubt. Technically speaking, there probably is another possibility to exhaust. Maybe you’ve given your work situation only a “pretty good shot” as opposed to your best. Maybe your efforts amounted to merely 109%.
For many people, there’s no flashing sign that says “turning point” ahead, just plenty of bootstraps that need pulling up and yourself that needs dusting off. That’s why even terrible office events are sometimes only the second-to-last straw.
“I have never in my life done ‘the best I could do’,” says Tim Orr, an ad executive who spent six years in a job he couldn’t stand before ultimately becoming self-employed. “I know full well I could always have tried just a little bit harder.” A non-compete clause prevented him from working for another local agency, so he spent a great deal of time trying to improve his job situation. He even read books on psychological disorders in an effort to decode his boss.
It also doesn’t help that the line is fine between perseverance and banging your head against a wall. Over the years, Jerry Slaske, an account manager, reached what he thought was the end of his rope a number of times. But “I always came to the conclusion that I’m not leaving because of something someone else did or said,” he says. “Some might call it being indecisive.”
Complicating the decision are several variables. A mortgage, kids and a paltry bank balance can mean a last straw has been preceded by many others. A windfall inheritance or cash-flush spouse, on the other hand, can mean there was never even a first straw.
But those who do get to their wit’s end say they are grateful for the clarifying moment despite the financial pickle accompanying it. Kathy McCurdy, a location manager for a production company, has been out of work since shortly after her boss exploded at a colleague because of some borders on a set of photographs. McCurdy half expected Allen Funt or Ashton Kutcher to appear and announce the hissy fit was just a prank. But when they didn’t, she decided she had to leave.
The clearest last straw is when management presents you with one. One of John Westropp’s former managers demanded that he accomplish many tasks under an unrealistic deadline, setting him up for failure. Effectively, he says, he was asked “to sequence a DNA sample from my left arm within 24 hours”. In a subsequent “dysfunctional” work environment, he was the only one in his department laid off for “budgetary issues”, despite the company’s $4 billion (about Rs16,640 crore) in annual revenue. “It was fairly doubtful that my salary of $57,000 per year was dragging down the operation,” he says. Still, he hid his glee from his boss. “I ended up practically consoling him,” he says.
One upside of throwing in the towel can be the support of colleagues, who are often awed that someone is fed up enough to resign. Soon after attorney Lisa Ebert disclosed to former supervisors that she was pregnant, they suddenly found her work product unsatisfactory, ultimately threatening to withhold a pay cheque. She told her boss that was illegal. “I’m leaving now,” she said, “and the next time you hear from me, it will be through my attorney.”
She eventually won a settlement—and the envy of her colleagues. “It’s a luxury to even have a last straw,” she says. “The lack of choice is the most horrible imprisonment.”
Perseverance worked for a while for McClaran, the account manager at the brokerage firm. But after she quit, she says, she felt as though she was “floating”, and all her stress-related symptoms vanished. Her last day was 31 August. She hasn’t landed a new job, but the jump, at least for the moment, was worth it. “The fear of quitting,” she says, “is always way worse than the reality.”
Write to Jared at cubicleculture@ livemint.com