Toxic bosses and trial periods

Bad bosses and nightmare workplaces

How many bad bosses are out there? I’m starting to wonder if they aren’t the majority rather than the exception, after two particularly bad apples in a row for T. Both seemed like great opportunities to start with, but the rot eventually became apparent. And both ended abruptly, thanks to the 90-day trial period rule brought in three years ago.

The slash and burn

An established industry name, it was talked up as a place with great potential where high achievers would be rewarded. While T was new to the industry, he quickly took to it; all the other team members said so and the big boss (as in, the one the company is named after) took note, publicly praising him.

A couple of months in, he and the other newbie got their marching orders. We don’t know about the other new guy, but T had never had any negative feedback at all, so this was completely unexpected. Being still within the 90-day period, the company didn’t have to give a reason for letting them go. (While it shouldn’t have any bearing on the matter at all, I’ll add that just before this, T injured his leg on a day off and wound up being off work for a week – hobbling around on crutches isn’t really conducive to the kind of job where you’re on your feet all day and interacting with customers. The week after was when he and the other guy got let go.)

In the following months, the company kept recruiting for entry level staff – and eventually, for an assistant manager. Thanks to the guys there who he’d kept in contact with, we learned that all the remaining staff quit in quick succession, and heard that managers got demoted due to the indeterminate firings they’d carried out.

Lesson learned: Unclear. Never sprain your ankle during the first 90 days?

 

The Jekyll/Hide boss

It was a small and new, growing company, almost all fresh staff, seemingly good prospects. However, a few weeks in it became clear there was little regard for customers (y’know, the lifeblood of any business), a lack of support and a temperamental boss. Out of the blue, he suddenly seemed to turn on T, and overnight T could do nothing right whatsoever – the badmouthing done behind his back to other staff was unbelieveable. Our best reading of this situation: a boss who picks out a golden boy to take under his wing, but if you fall out of his good graces at any point, you are OUT for good. He also treated other staff poorly, and the newest hire of all (newer than T) quit after just a couple of weeks. A few weeks and a lot of mental stress later, we decided T needed to follow suit – this was about 2 months in.

In this case, I suppose we benefited in that under the 90-day rules he could quit right away rather than giving 2 weeks’ notice – but the reason for quitting in the first place was a real fear that he was going to be pushed out (IMO, jumping is much preferable to being forced out). That’s how bad it was – how much the situation had deteriorated. Under these rules he could be let go at any time for no reason, as we already knew – no warnings or notice needed. If it wasn’t for that, we would have stuck it out until he found a new job.

Lesson learned: Unclear. Be nothing but an absolute doormat/yesman during the first 90 days?

I don’t have a problem with the 90-day rule; I absolutely understand the rationale for it. Theoretically nobody would abuse it as the cost/hassle of recruiting and training should be a huge deterrent. But as we all know, logic does not always reign supreme, even in the free market. (Hence why we badly need some legal standards around rental housing – case in point.) Especially in small companies with no HR – which are also the companies that most need this legislation – there’s so much potential for this kind of thing to happen unchecked. Oh, the irony.

The happiest way to spin this, of course, is to say it worked out and he’s well rid of them – better off out of those places. I’m really keen for him to temp until a genuinely good job comes along (a third short-term stint will look dire) and hopefully we are a bit better equipped to tell the difference.

Got any bad boss/nightmare workplace war stories?

Three things I’m grateful for right now

 

So, here’s the reason I’ve been feeling down in the dumps lately. We made a decision that T would leave his job with nothing lined up (a first for us and an extreme move, yes – a topic for a separate, upcoming post).

That’s put us back to one income. We are definitely not living for today OR saving for tomorrow. Thus = unhappy me.

Rather than run down the street screaming, as I felt like doing at one recent low point, I thought I’d focus on the few things I’m currently grateful for.

(And I’m going to bite the bullet and book in a haircut – I’d been putting it off until he got back to work, but that is just ridiculous considering my haircuts are $30.)

Interest rates are on the rise

I’m currently earning 2.75% in my online savings account with my main bank, and 3.40% in my other savings account with my online-only bank.

Cheap rent

When we were searching for a place after returning to NZ, we were a one-income household. Not knowing when T would find work, it was important we live somewhere that I could afford alone. Since he’s been out of work for about half of this year, this has proven a good move, even if this place is like a deep freezer in winter. Low absolute rent also means it will be easier for us to save for a down payment … at some point.

Our rent is going up $20 a week next month, which I’m not happy about, but I’ve already been watching listings and there isn’t a lot of choice out there. We have a fantastic location and while it’s freezing and we don’t have a full kitchen, at least it’s not damp. Summer will be okay here and I think I can survive one more winter. Beyond that, we will either be on track to buying and decide to stick it out a bit longer, or give up on ever buying and fork out for a decent rental (whether agents/landlords will deign to choose us as tenants is the other hurdle, of course).

Side income

Being down to one income has meant more or less giving up on saving during this period. Yay for side income, which goes into my higher interest online savings account/mutual funds and stays there.

What are you feeling grateful for today?

Six things I’ve learned in six years of blogging

NZMuse - Blogging lessons learned

As of this month, I’ve been chronicling my life here for six years. Unbelieveable.

Since I missed the big five-year mark, being off gallivanting somewhere in Europe last year, I’ll have to make up for it now.

Here are the biggest things I’ve learned.

It’s all about me

It’s the rawest and most honest posts that seem to resonate.

Guest posts and posts where I get a bit more journalistic just don’t get the same response.

It makes sense – if I think about all the blogs I currently read, the reason I continue to subscribe is because I feel a connection to the blogger. This is why I read very few blogs that use staff writers (and usually skim over the staff posts in favour of the posts by the original writer). I promise I will never hire staff writers.

Ultimately, the only thing you have to set you apart online is yourself - your viewpoint, your writing, your voice.

It’s hard to know how much to reveal

Walking that fine line is something anyone who writes for public consumption faces.

As I’ve become less anonymous, finding that balance has become even harder. I want to be as honest as possible, but within reason. Although I don’t share my blog with many people IRL, my rough benchmark is ‘would I mind if my family/closest friends read this?’ and that helps guide me.

I will happily talk to anyone, online or offline, stranger or friend, about how I spend and save. I probably wouldn’t share my income or net worth. I might not want to disclose the details if I was going through a rough time personally but I might allude to them or talk about how I’m coping (or not). Struggles with relationships and career/work, I find, are the toughest to navigate.

Go self-hosted early

I wish I’d made the switch to self-hosted blogging earlier. (Check out some options for domains and hosting.) Mainly for selfish reasons, to be honest with you: I could have made a lot more money.

But it’s also encouraged me to take my writing here more seriously. I almost don’t even count those first couple of years of blogging. These days, I usually work on draft posts for awhile and preschedule them – often continuing to make tweaks before and even just after go-live.

Don’t sell out

Doesn’t this directly contradict that last point, you ask? Well, like with most things, it’s all about balance. I’m not principled enough to eschew commercialism entirely. In going self-hosted, I wanted to be confident I would at least make enough to cover the costs involved.

That doesn’t mean jumping at every opportunity, though. I had a phase where I ran a ton of crappy (paid) guest posts, and that accounted for a reasonable proportion of the money I earned online while travelling full-time last year. I tried to edit to higher standards and put my own spin on them with a personalised intro, but ultimately I was no longer comfortable playing that game. It was a weird and totally conflicting dynamic at play: Advertisers essentially wanted to piggyback off your blog’s SEO juice, but in allowing them to do so you put that hard-earned built-up SEO goodness – the very thing advertisers are paying you for – at risk. And since I was working in mainstream media (which of course is playing its own game with sponsored content and struggling to define boundaries) I felt extremely suspect doing this kind of thing on my personal site.

Suffice to say my standards are now a lot higher. I want to be proud of everything I run here.

Do not obsess over stats

I go through ebbs and flows – currently I’m in a phase where I feel compelled to check in on my traffic every few hours. This is unhealthy and I know it!

I’m used to running larger, non-personal sites and constantly monitoring analytics, because that kind of data informs what we do. I don’t want to do the same here.

I don’t have the huge numbers that some other bloggers do, and while sometimes that bums me out, ultimately, I’m much more interested in quality, not quantity.

Don’t force it

When it comes to blogging, I go through bursts and spurts of inspiration. Often I’ll realise I’ve almost run out of posts, but it always works out. Forcing ideas never works!

Link love (Powered by quiche and many a bus ride)

nzmuse link love roundup

Oh, what a week.

The highlight of my week was: A kid just passing by, who stopped when he saw me arguing with a bus driver, to try and help me. I wish I’d been more appreciative of his effort, but at the time I was too steaming mad…

The low of my week was: Dealing with that twat of a bus driver. I came pretty close to busting out the c-word; that’s how close to the edge I’ve been operating lately stress-wise and this incident nearly pushed me over. Here’s the account of events that I emailed to Auckland Transport as a complaint:

Auckland Transport - Bus driver complaint

While it only added maybe 10 minutes to my journey home as another bus came along soon, and didn’t cost me any more as I had an unlimited monthly pass, it’s the bloody principle. I call UNACCEPTABLE on the entire thing. I will defend public transport to the death – I’ve relied on it for years – but even I have limits.

It’s a real shame, as literally the night before that incident, I had my BEST ever experience of Auckland transport yet: two trips in close succession, each requiring me to take two separate buses and transfer, but with hardly any wait time in between.

This time last year we were in: Paris, one of my favourite cities ever. I had a particularly strong burst of nostalgia yesterday standing in line at the French cafe next door to work …

This week’s links

Sarah Somewhere on finding peace

Michelle at FitnPoor calls quits on obsessing about her blog stats

Over at Musical Poem: How to spend 48 hours in Washington DC

Agreed on most counts! Things to know before embarking on a RTW trip, by Landing Standing

A rare gem on LinkedIn on the career myth that’s hurting millennials: “Happiness is fleeting, and cannot be achieved by finding that one catch-all job.”

Happy weekends!

The number one reason not to travel…

The one downside of travel is...

… You may become a gastronomic snob and forever struggle to fulfil your cravings at home.

We have a lot of great Asian cuisine in Auckland, but pickin’s are a bit slim on some of the other fronts.

I’ve ranted on here enough times about it; I won’t blather on about the nonexistent Mexican scene anymore. I do think we can do better on the North American front overall, though. Americana seems to be the latest fad, but having so recently been through the US I just can’t get excited about most of the new options here (to say nothing of the portion sizes).

But the biggest letdown I’ve had came a few weeks ago, when we bought ostensibly fresh burrata from the Parnell farmer’s market. Now, it was made locally, by genuine Italians, but it was so far off the mark compared to what we ate in Italy. Consider the difference between good and bad squid – lightly cooked vs rubbery and tough. This burrata was stringy and dryish – edible, but a pale imitation.

I don’t wish to move to Italy to live or anything, but by god do I miss the fresh foods and simple yet sublime farm meals we had there.

Communication: The hardest thing in the world

Communication- The hardest thing in the world

Years ago, when I was going through a rough patch at home, my mother told me that “if you want to study Communications, you better learn to communicate well”. I had honestly never considered myself a bad communicator – who does? – but from then on I became hyper sensitive in this regard.

Communication is one of those things that seems SO simple in theory, but is much harder to actually get right.

Over the past few months I’ve learned just how hard it is to do effective organisational communications properly – both on a company-wide scale and also at team level.

For me, it’s all about understanding. Getting the context and background; getting to grips with the why. Knowing where everybody is coming from and thus ensuring their concerns are addressed and their needs met. Otherwise, I reckon your chances of success are a lot lower.

While I’ve never been a manager – and have no desire to – I can understand why someone might feel compelled to micromanage. When you’re frustrated and not getting the results you need, I can see why your instinct might be to crack down.

Honestly, that has always been my MO relationship-wise. And unsurprisingly, it’s not always effective.

Even after almost a decade together, this was my brainwave on Friday morning on the bus to work last week. If I wouldn’t behave that way in a work context, why should I apply it to my partner?

Instead of snapping when I got home, I kept a lid on it. While I knew I would be justified in doing so, that didn’t mean it was the best way to get results. I approached things by asking, “What can I do to help you at this point?”

Magic. Of course, he knew I was doing as much I as I could. I didn’t even need to prompt the obvious next question - what did I need from him? He brought it up of his own accord, voicing all the things I needed to hear and that I had been thinking, without me forcing them on him. We both KNOW what I need, and he knows what he needs to do – and that he hasn’t been giving 100%.

Of course, I wish it hadn’t had to come to that. But no relationship is perfect, and I’m not going to pretend ours is.

The thing is, being in the right isn’t always enough. Going on the offensive will only lead to the other person getting defensive. As Dale Carnegie teaches, start by changing how you behave. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

My Scarlett O’Hara declaration

My Scarlett O'Hara declaration

“I’ll never be hungry again!”

Say what you want about Scarlett, but she was one determined lass who always came out on top.

In that vein, here is my commitment to myself:

One day, the sooner the better, I will live in my own house. I will never scrub mould from the ceiling or walls again. Never see my breath in front of my face while indoors. Never come across a mushroom growing through the carpet. Never come home in winter and cross the threshold to find it just as cold inside as outside. Never get into the car only to find it warmer than indoors.

The next couple of years will tell whether buying a house is a possibility. Depends what life decides to lob our way. (If there’s one thing in life I hate, it’s not being able to plan.)

If not, I’ll have to come up with a backup strategy … one that somehow incorporates renting a decent, healthy and reasonably modern property to live in and raise kids in – such properties are expensive and rare – while ramping up retirement savings way more at the same time to compensate for the lack of home ownership.

Not too far off impossible, then.

Link love (Powered by rainstorms and troubled sleep)

nzmuse link love roundup

Guys, it’s been a hard week. One of those weeks where I’ve retreated into myself and felt really alone – there’s nobody I want to talk to about it and I haven’t even wanted to write about it just yet.

At this stage, I think I’d rather be back in Italy among the sticky fig trees and blasted horse dung and cleaning the chicken coop and at the topless beach that wasn’t. Yep, even in the 30-40 degree heat (I’d never gotten so sweaty in my life) – though on the plus side Europe has a much stronger ozone layer, so I never got burnt like I would here at home.

This week’s links

The two golden rules to travelling while in debt, via Nomad Wallet

The Billfold on accepting financial assistance from your parents (I used to be super staunch about independence but life has beaten me down; I sure as well would accept help nowadays)

Cordelia Calls it Quits is quitting the entrepreneurial rat race

James Robinson on Medium muses about life in NZ vs the US

Thoughts on culture, race and identity, from My Name is Elizabeth

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: A manifesto for realists

cal-newport-boromir-passion

We all know that famous Steve Jobs speech from Stanford – the one where everyone seized on the palatable, soundbitable angle: Love your work. Don’t settle. 

As Cal Newport writes in the early pages of his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, our generation is rather obsessed with ‘following our passions’. But ironically, that’s not at all what Jobs actually did. Had he done that, Newport says, Jobs would probably have wound up as a teacher at the Los Altos Zen Center. Apple was the result of a lucky break, a small-time scheme that took off, albeit one that Jobs no doubt eventually became passionate about later.

What’s actually more important and more telling about that Stanford speech is what Jobs says about joining the dots in retrospect:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Having just finished the book, I’ve got a few thoughts to put into words. Bear with me!

The dark side of the ‘passion’ mindset

Chasing passion is often unrealistic and in many cases only leads to disappointment. Newport cites a few studies to back up this argument:

One surveyed a group of students and found the vast majority did not have passions that mapped to work/career paths – most were instead related to leisure or hobbies.

Another found that among employees who all held the same  administrative role with nearly identical duties, there was a fairly even split between those who saw their work as a job vs those who saw it as a career or even a calling – and those most likely to think of it as a calling were the ones with the most years on the job.

And yet another found that job satisfaction numbers have been trending downwards over time. “The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it,” he writes.

Give, and you shall receive?

What I took away from the book is that mastering your craft – which we should all aspire to – is its own kind of reward. Get so good that people can’t ignore you and will pay you accordingly … and job satisfaction follows.

It’s the same philosophy Newport has outlined on his blog; the book is his attempt to flesh this out with living examples and further depth.

It’s a pragmatic approach that no doubt most of us know deep down holds a lot of truth:

Focus on what you can offer the world, instead of what the world can offer you.

Derek Sivers, ostensibly a guy of many passions who’s done a bunch of different things, is one of the ‘masters’ in the book and is quoted thusly: “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules: Do what people are willing to pay for.

The law of financial viability, then, is one to bear in mind. I’ll never forget a conversation that went down in our dorm room in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Four of us were sitting around talking: me, T, a ditzy girl from Connecticut and an intense Southern guy who travelled all over the world organising and running races (marathons and ultras). We were discusing how he managed to scrape together a living doing this (he definitely wasn’t doing it for the money) and inevitably, the “passion” word came up.

“So, do what you love and the money will follow?” Ditzy Girl piped up eagerly, obviously waiting for a high five and rah-rah chirpy confirmation.

But rather than immediately jumping to affirm this, Running Guy paused.

“More like, do what you love and figure out a way to make money from it,” he said seriously.

The missing piece of the puzzle

The biggest thing I felt was missing from So Good They Can’t Ignore You was that vital first step. What do you do if you have NO idea what you want to do? (This is the ongoing problem in our household, specifically on T’s side.) How do you get started? Do you just try to get a foot in the door somewhere, assuming the basic elements are bearable – that there’s some room to grow, you don’t actively hate the industry, and you don’t hate the people – and stick with it, beavering away on the quest to achieve mastery and become a highly valuable professional?

One of Newport’s examples, Pardis Sabeti, touches on this: “I think you do need passion to be happy. It’s just that we don’t know what that passion is. If you ask someone, they’ll tell you what they think they’re passionate about, but they probably have it wrong.” From that, Newport concludes that it’s a “fool’s errand” to try figure out in advance what work will lead to that passion. Alas, that point isn’t taken any further.

Yes, he demonstrates that many of his example ‘masters’ took awhile to find their exact direction, but they generally started down the right sort of track early on; it was just a matter of honing in from there over time. It’s not super clear how they found that track to start with. Newport does acknowledge at one point that it’s very hard to start from the bottom in a new field, so if you’re genuinely floundering, maybe the key is simply finding a field that you can tolerably devote yourself to.

Finally, I don’t think that the ‘craftsman’ approach and the ‘passion’ approach are mutually exclusive. They can actually play in quite well together, which I don’t think Newport adequately acknowledges. Passion, or at least interest, was definitely an element for many – though not ALL – of the examples of happy ‘masters’ cited in the book. Take the screenwriter, the archaeologist, the geneticist. One does not complete a master’s/PhD without at least some interest in their subject! In an effort to draw clear lines and take a strong, controversial stance that sells books, passion gets thrown totally under the truck.

In closing: If you read his blog Study Hacks, you probably won’t glean much more meat from the book. He also gives a good overview in this 99U talk.

Cal Newport: “Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice from 99U on Vimeo.

Things I WON’T do to save money on travel

Camp

I don’t consider myself high maintenance, but I do have a minimum comfort level and camping does not meet it. I’m fine with hostels and seedy motels (“How do you always find the most ghetto places?!” T complained to me when we went wandering around east Berlin in search of our hostel) but I’m just not a tenting person. On a scale of 1 to Major Pain In The Ass, setting up and packing down tents rates just above scrubbing the toilet for me.

Hitchhike

First, the realities. I mainly travel with T, and nobody is going to stop to pick up someone who looks like him. I wouldn’t! Even our host in Munich, who’d been urging us to think about hitchhiking around Germany, demurred once we actually turned up and he met us in the flesh.

Even so, I don’t like uncertainty, and relying on passing cars to pick you up is about as uncertain as it gets in travel. (I remember waiting for ages one day for our Couchsurfing guests to arrive and wondering if they were going to turn up at all. Turned out they were at the mercy of hitching, and didn’t have a way to contact us to inform us.) Also not super keen on standing outside for potentially hours on end in any weather conditions to save some money.

Taking flights at crazy times

Super late flights may be a little cheaper, but that’s not the end of the story. There’s nothing worse than arriving  in a new city trying to find your way around in the dark! Public transport may not be running by the time you arrive, so you might have to take an expensive taxi, potentially negating any flight savings. In small establishments the front desk might close at 8pm. And it just screws up your schedule and body clock in general.



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Where do you draw your lines?