The best and worst thing I did at work
We’ve all got something we're proud of in our careers - and we've all messed up at work. From missing deadlines to running late, we’ve all had at least a few mistakes or misjudgments that our colleagues can easily forgive and forget, as well as some highlights to add to our CV.
But have you ever done something where you look back and think to yourself, “Oh no, that really was bad!” ? We sat down with one of our members to talk about the worst - and best - things she’s done at work.
Thank you for sharing this today - it's a really brave thing to do! Let's peel off the band-aid and start with the worst thing...
The most ill-advised thing I have ever done in the workplace came when an anonymous survey from HR dropped in my inbox one day.
I had been in this job for a year and a half, ready to stop paying my dues and move forward into a role or a field that better fit my interests. I had watched colleagues come and go at an alarming rate, had been constantly questioned and undermined in matters that I was more than qualified to handle, and had lived with management breathing down my neck every day from nine until six.
I had been looking for work before this email came to me. I had taken precious days off (they only provided the legal minimum, of course) to attend interviews but nothing had come from my searching. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to do my job and search for a new one. On one occasion, I had to tell one recruiter that I couldn’t attend the interview because my time off had not been approved.
For such a disillusioned, burned-out employee, this anonymous survey was too good to pass up.
I laid into my company for everything that was grieving me. I brought up policy changes that meant that people didn’t dare call in sick for fear of having their pay docked, and the draconian measures taken if people were late for work. The work culture, the lack of cohesion between teams, inflexibility from management… nothing was left out.
But that didn’t feel like enough for me. I then went onto trivial things like the state of the toilets, infrequency of perks and other things. I even got myself convinced that work drinks and pizza parties were half-baked ploys to keep us sweet despite being paid well below the industry average and we could all see through it. It was just more fuel for my fire - so into the survey it went.
I remember very clearly feeling a bubble of glee when I clicked send. There wasn’t a human on the other end reading it; it was just upper management and they made far too much money to care about what I thought. And besides if they did care, I felt sure they would never know it was me.
I was wrong. Not even twenty-four hours passed before I got a message from my line manager saying they had figured out it was me. So much for anonymity.
I felt sad that they had dragged my manager into this to talk about what I had written. I felt that if anyone should be taking the blame for my actions, it should be me.
What followed was many awkward conversations about why I was so unhappy - and a promise not to tell anyone that the surveys weren’t as anonymous as advertised (although that promise was not kept by my employer and I quietly warned a few colleagues who were planning on sending a similar response to mine.)
Less than a month later I slid my notice across a desk to the head of HR. I hadn’t been fired, but this one incident did make me end my time in this role earlier than intended - and without another job lined up.
Which brings me onto the best thing I have ever done at work...
Phew! That was intense - so what was the best thing?
The best thing I have ever done at work was exactly what you just read! It was taking an opportunity to put why I wasn’t happy in my job into writing, send it to my higher-ups and begin a conversation.
That’s right: I consider complaining to my superiors one of the best things I ever did at work, because it gave me the clarity and strength to leave that role.
Why was this great? Well, with all my time devoted to job seeking, things looked up right away. Instead of cramming all my spare time into rushed job applications, I could research each company thoroughly, so I made stronger applications and received more responses. Instead of sneaking around the office corridors begging in a whisper for recruiters to call me back at lunch, I had in-depth conversations at my leisure in my own home. Instead of choosing between interviews, I had the time to go to all that I was invited to.
Six weeks later, I was offered my current position in an industry I love and for a company that really values its employees. I was lucky when I left the job that I complained about, that I could just about afford to take that time to devote to my job hunt - and the payoff was more than I could ever hope for.
At the time, sending that survey felt like a gaffe to end all gaffes but, with time between now and the incident, it only seems like it has led to better things. Would I do it again? Absolutely not, but I can’t deny the path it led me down was much better than if I had stayed quiet… unhappy and missing opportunity after opportunity.
What would you change if you could go back and repeat that experience?
If I had my time over, I would acknowledge how trapped and frustrated I felt long before I reached breaking point. Step back from myself and think, I don’t need to lash out like this but, if I feel that I want to, I should really take action sooner rather than later. The outcome would have been exactly the same, only I would have left with no one’s feelings hurt and my relationship with my previous employer still intact.
Talking about our career highlights - and lowlights - is so important. Thank you for sharing your experience!
If this story has sparked any questions for you, you can submit them here! We'll work through them in an episode of Stride Talks, sharing our experiences and advice with you.