I’m never sure if it’s resilience, that blind, forgiving bitch in our lives called hope, or just denial, that gives people permission to stay in a situation that is just not healthy for them to be in. I see it all the time. I have even done it myself. You stay and you make excuses, or you continually modify your own behavior in order to accommodate some asshole/assholes that is/are abusing the crap out of you.
Why do we do that?
Why do people stay in these hopeless and toxic situations and expect things to be different someday?
Here’s a little gem that most of us never learn: If the situation you’re in is toxic, it is not going to get any better, but you will probably make yourself worse by trying to stay in it.
I know it can be difficult to get out of certain positions in life. If it were easy perhaps we wouldn’t have war and poverty to contend with. On a much smaller scale let’s take a for instance and poke at it. Here’s my story…
I took on a part time job working from home a while back because I thought it might be a lot of fun. My husband and I have full time careers, so it wasn’t like we needed the money, but extra cash is always a good thing. I eagerly embarked on what I thought was going to be a brand new chapter in my life with new friends added in as a bonus.
I followed all the rules presented to me in training and was diligent about getting my work completed on time. I took each correction and criticism like a champ and tried to be the best team player by including everyone. I entered my time each day in their online payroll system and made sure to ask the right questions about how I would receive my paycheck and when I should expect it.
The week rolled up that my first paycheck was supposed to arrive in the mail, so I checked my mailbox every day. Nothing ever arrived from them. I went online to make sure my hours were submitted and they were there, just like I left them. Nothing was amiss. No one sent an email telling me my check would be late. Maybe the postal service was just being slow that week? So I waited.
And I waited.
Finally I called one of my colleagues. “I have to ask you a delicate question.” I started. “I have not received my paycheck yet and I was wondering if you had gotten yours.” My colleague laughed uncomfortably and replied, “Actually, I haven’t been paid in three months and I’m living on my credit cards right now.” My jaw hit the floor. This was much bigger than just me.
I immediately sat down and composed an email to the people responsible for paying me. I detailed my hours and the work I had already completed and asked to be paid right away. I never mentioned my colleague’s plight because that wasn’t my place. My one hope (see? there she is! that blind and forgiving bitch…hope!) was that if I was able to get to the bottom of the problem, perhaps they would pay everyone they were ignoring. I dunno! It was a thought!
This ensued with many emails flying back and forth. There was embarrassment on their part, which I believe now was feigned and never the least bit genuine. It wasn’t their fault this was happening. They had no idea this was happening, but the person responsible was going to be fired right away! The promises to do better and the regret that my trust in them had been damaged, etc. All the words someone in my position absolutely need to hear and are dying to hear…so we can continue staying in a situation we now know is toxic.
I finally did get my first paycheck.
I went on working with these people. My colleague was sort of paid too and so they went on working with these people. The difference now was the fact that I resented the hours I was putting in working for them. I begrudged each minute thinking I could be doing something fun instead. Besides now, there was the added discomfort that I might not get paid for all of the work I was doing until months later. The anxiety level was high. But I kept working and entered my time each day in their online payroll system.
The week rolled up that my second paycheck was supposed to arrive in the mail, so I checked my mailbox every day. Nothing ever arrived from them. I went online to make sure my hours were submitted and they were there, just like I left them. Nothing was amiss. No one sent an email telling me my check would be late. Maybe the postal service was just being slow that week? So I waited.
And I waited.
Finally I called one of my colleagues. “I have to ask you a delicate question.” I started. “I have not received my paycheck yet and I was wondering if you had gotten yours.” My colleague laughed uncomfortably and replied, “I have been checking my mailbox hourly and I don’t have my paycheck either.”
I immediately sat down and composed another email to the people responsible for paying me. I detailed my hours and the work I had already completed and asked to be paid right away. I again never mentioned my colleague’s plight because that wasn’t my place. My one hope this time was they would just start paying me. I threatened to give my notice. I was done being nice.
This ensued with many emails flying back and forth. There was embarrassment on their part, which I believe was once again feigned and never the least bit genuine. It really, really wasn’t their fault this was happening. They were working on a solution, but the person responsible couldn’t be fired right away. They wanted to do it with respect and sensitivity. There were more promises to do better and they deeply regretted that I felt like quitting, etc. All the words someone in my position absolutely need to hear and are dying to hear…so we can continue staying in a situation we know, without a single doubt, is toxic.
I finally did get my second paycheck.
This went on for a few more weeks. Towards the end of the season I started getting a paycheck sort of regularly. So did my colleague. I was pretty happy about that! There was a break in between seasons where I promised to keep checking my email. They were happy with my work and talked to me about how much they enjoyed working with me and I did a great job for them. They talked to me about some additional training during the down time and I was excited to take the next step.
I’m not sure what ensued after the hand job they gave me, but my email account disappeared one day. I never assumed they weren’t going to use me anymore. I thought I had ended that season on good terms with them, but in hindsight I bet my insistence on being paid was probably more than they were willing to put up with from a part time employee. What happened to letting me go with respect and sensitivity? This was a bit passive aggressive on their end.
I decided to say something to them about how they handled my dismissal.
Once again I dealt with the flurry of emails flying back and forth. There was denial on their part this time. They had no idea what I was talking about! This must be someone else’s doing! They would get to the bottom of this! There were words on the defensive too, but most blatant were the words they felt most strongly in sharing with someone that had continued to call them out on their bad behavior. They devalued me and they devalued my work. Suddenly I wasn’t the model employee. Suddenly I wasn’t hired to do the work I did for them. I was hired to do much, much less than that and even then, it wasn’t something they valued from an employee at all. It was menial work meant to be done by a minion.
To top that, they informed me that since I was being such a bitch about this, it was my fault that I was going to miss out on doing that devalued work again next year because they weren’t going to hire me back!
I was incredulous! Not only did they deny what they had done (probably because I told them it was a passive aggressive move on their part), but they slammed the work I did and then decided to dangle that carrot again by stating that I blew it and wouldn’t get to go through this charade of a job again next year! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! These guys always have seemed to have an answer. They were always on the defense and nothing was ever their fault.
So folks, this is a very good example of someone that stayed in a toxic situation and expected it to be different. This is about someone that kept hoping that those folks would get a conscious, or even a clue about how to treat people well.
Why did I keep expecting them to change their bad habits and do the right thing?
The fact is they never changed their behavior at all. Sure I finally started getting a paycheck on time, but that only lasted long enough to get them through the season. Once the season was over, they went right back to the way they were doing things before I arrived. What do I mean by that? My colleague stopped getting paychecks on a regular basis. In fact, the last time I spoke to them, they hadn’t been paid for a couple of months.
You will never be able to change someone’s behavior.You will never be able to convince them to do things your way, especially if they do not consider you to be an equal.
You will never be able to change someone else’s priorities. You are either at the top of their list, or you’re not. Even people that think they can buy their way to the top of the list are sorely disappointed. They might tell you, “Oh yes! A million bucks puts you at the top of the list!” But if they have priorities already in their head, like their family or their loved ones, then expect to start believing in a lot of lip service because you will never be a priority.
If a situation is already toxic, get out of it and never look back. I know it’s feels good to have hope, however in situations like the one I described above, having hope is fooling yourself. Like in my story, some people will only make enough minor changes in their routines so they can get rid of the person making the waves. My question to my former colleague, who stayed with this company, was, “Why continue to work for someone that was not going to pay you? Why not quit and find another job?” I guess the hope that they would start paying on time, or the promise of a promotion and better working conditions, is enough to make many folks hang in there, but my former colleague is a smart person. I’m sure there is something in the works there that will be a positive change.
I have no one to blame, but myself. I kept expecting this to be different, simply because I hoped it would. I tried being professional in the beginning, hoping to be treated professionally too. I asked to be made a priority and they pretended to make me one. When I called them out for all of their subterfuge, lies and unprofessional behavior in the end, I expected them to be remorseful about it and apologize to me. Instead, they devalued me.
I expected it to be different until the bitter end, and it never was.
So now you and I both know what to do if this ever happens again. If Hope rears it’s hopeful head next time, simply give it a firm pat and tell it that we have chosen to be hopeful in situations that aren’t already toxic. We are going to save our hope for people that deserve to have it. And those people are ourselves. Here’s hoping you never have to find yourself in a toxic situation, but if you do, just walk away. There are so many other places out in this great big world that will treat you the way you deserve to be treated. Go out and find those places!