“No one will hire me.”
Jim Walters was blacklisted. His former boss tried to ruin his career. When prospective employers contacted Jim, they asked for references.
So he sent them.
Inevitably, these employers decided they didn’t want to hire Jim. 12 employers made an offer. They all backed out after contacting his references.
His former boss was attempting to ruin his career.
Maybe Your Boss is Terrible
Maybe they’re a tyrant, focused on dominating you. Or maybe they’re clueless micromanagers harassing you about your work. The real question, though, is this:
Will your boss ruin your career?
It doesn’t seem like a legitimate question at first glance.
Who cares? It’s not like they can ruin my career. What are they gonna do, tell on me?
A terrible boss will ruin your career. Spend enough time with them and the damage becomes inevitable.
Aren’t there laws to protect employees?
Laws, for the most part, are limited to eavesdropping on private oral communication, anti-discrimination, equal opportunity, etc. But aside from that?
Employers, your boss, can pretty much do what they want, when they want.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at a few examples.
Lynne Gobbell was fired because her boss didn’t like the bumper sticker on her car. When her boss saw her sticker he said, “either work for John Kerry or work for me.” She refused to remove the sticker, and was immediately fired.
Best Lock Company in Indiana fired employees for social drinking at their home. The reason? Their president believes drinking alcohol is a sin. They even go so far as to deny unemployment.
Johnson County Community College installed hidden cameras in their bathrooms and locker rooms. They stated workers had no right to privacy. What’s worse, they got away with it.
Glen Hillier was fired from his job at an ad agency. During the 2004 presidential race, he asked President Bush some embarrassing questions. One of his company’s customers felt offended and reported it to Hillier’s boss. One day later, Hillier was out of a job.
Lewis Maltby, in his book Can They Do That? discloses the abuse workers face in detail.
And there’s the problem.
Your employers know they can do what they want. The vast majority of employees know it too, which is why so many people work in fear.
Dysfunctional Employers Feed on Your Fear
They use sadistic and dysfunctional behavior to extract the results they want from their employees. Then, once you’re burned out and used up, they toss you aside.
When that happens, you’re treated as damaged goods.
Future employers are suddenly nervous about hiring you. You’re blacklisted by your dysfunctional employer directly or implicitly. It’s suddenly difficult to get a new job.
That’s the thing about a ruined career.
It creeps up on you slowly, gradually. Ignore the signs, wait too long and the damage may be irreversible.
Here’s the worst part.
The vast majority of developers reject these signals automatically. “It won’t happen to me,” they tell themselves. Their rejection is based on a wide variety of reasons.
- Most believe the solution is beneath them somehow.
- Some are afraid they’ll dig up unpleasant things.
- My company isn’t like that, they tell themselves.
- Others think “working hard” or doing a “good job” is enough. (It’s not.)
- Things are good, so why bother with that now?
As developers, we create rationalizations to avoid facing stupid or unpleasant things. But the signs of a bad employer are there, screaming for us to pay attention. You can protect and save your career … if you know how to read the signals. Here are four signals, numbered from 4 to 1 …
Signal #4: Chronic Emotional Invalidation
Invalidation is an attempt by others to control how you feel about something and how long you feel that way.
It’s accomplished by rejecting, mocking, judging or minimizing someone else’s thoughts, values or feelings. It’s a devastating part of work that most developers have come to accept as a normal, everyday part of work.
What does that look like?
Procrastinators are made. A fear of failure, perfectionism, or a lack of focus is all that’s needed to induce procrastination. The sad part? All three of these causes are really part of the same problem. Make a mistake and you’ll probably lose your job.
Silent and disengaged. Co-workers who couldn’t care less about their jobs and are eagerly looking forward to the weekend/holidays/vacation, etc. Thanks to interpersonal dynamics, the idea of doing a job at work has completely lost its appeal for them.
Distracted co-workers are fixated on all the wrong things. They’re not working on exciting projects, aren’t being trained to do more or simply aren’t in the environment of their choice. So these developers focus their time and attention on doing as little as they can.
Fearful. Your manager or boss asks for an “honest opinion” or “feedback” in a meeting. Everyone looks down. They stare at the table or their hands. Everyone in that meeting knows feedback or honest opinion is code for tell me what I want to hear. Mess it up and you’re out of a job.
An organization struggling with these dysfunctions runs into a predictable problem. A-player developers quickly leave, while B- and C-players do their best to survive.
Those who stay absorb these bad habits like a sponge, taking them wherever they go, ruining their careers in the process.
Most developers will allow their boss, their employer to hurt their careers — even after learning about these details.
They believe that feelings/emotions don’t matter. “I’m a logical thinker, I’m clear-headed. These things just don’t get to me.” Here’s why that’s a problem.
It’s a lie.
That’s because logical decision making is a myth.
Antonio Damasio, Professor at the University of Southern California, made the surprising discovery. His research focused on patients who were normal in every way, except one. They all had a damaged limbic system.
They couldn’t feel emotions at all. This led to a surprising but unusual problem.
None of Damasio’s patients could make decisions.
They were able to logically describe what they should do, but without emotion, they found it incredibly difficult to make the simplest decisions. These people couldn’t decide what to eat, when to eat it or even how they should eat.
Damasio found that emotions are absolutely vital for decision making.
It gets worse.
Negative emotions, fear, stress and anxiety, kills your performance. Whether we like it or not, these emotions are slowly chipping away at our ability to perform, giving dysfunctional employers the ammunition they need to hurt our careers.
Signal #3: Codependency and the Drama Triangle
It’s a silent epidemic, codependency in the workplace. It’s something that makes developers (and employees), in general, miserable. But, what is it?
Here’s a simple definition.
When I work on your desires, goals, fears and frustrations more than you do. It’s a behavioral problem that masks itself in lots of different ways.
- The micromanaging boss
- Abandoning your work routine to bail out a co-worker
- Allowing someone else to take the credit for your work
- Feeling compelled — almost forced — to help an irresponsible co-worker solve the problem they created
- Offering unasked for advice
- Controlling others with guilt, helplessness, threats, shame, advice-giving, manipulation, domination, etc.
- Pretending a problem isn’t happening or isn’t as bad as it really is.
This isn’t a comprehensive list. It’s meant to show the types of behaviors present in a dysfunctional workplace.
Why does this matter?
The Drama Triangle is a social model of unhealthy human interaction. In an unhealthy environment, developers and employers play a dysfunctional role where everyone fights for control.
Here’s how it works.
This dynamic is at play in our personal and professional relationships. Here’s an example of what that looks like.
An employer decides to become a rescuer, choosing an employee they feel will help them but also finding one they feel needs a leg up.
Their employee realizes they’re making less than their friends and feels victimized, cheated by the employer because they’re not being paid enough.
The employee asks for a raise. Employer, feeling taken advantage of (victim state), says No, becomes a persecutor telling their employee they need to see a performance improvement first.
The employee becomes enraged and swears revenge. They make the move to persecutor doing everything they can to punish their employer and their co-workers.
The employee takes revenge, completes the cycle of persecution and destroys the company.
Sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it? I mean, who’d go to the trouble of doing something malicious like this? Ask JournalSpace. JournalSpace was a blogging platform. The keyword is was, because their IT guy (the same guy who was caught stealing from the company), maliciously wiped out the main database (for which there was no backup). JournalSpace shut down immediately.
Here’s how his employer described the whole affair.
It was the guy handling the IT (and, yes, the same guy who I caught stealing from the company, and who did a slash-and-burn on some servers on his way out) who made the choice to rely on RAID as the only backup mechanism for the SQL server. He had set up automated backups for the HTTP server which contains the PHP code, but, inscrutably, had no backup system in place for the SQL data. The ironic thing here is that one of his hobbies was telling everybody how smart he was.
Notice how both employer and employee decided to persecute each other. They both had a role to play but neither wanted to accept any responsibility for their role in the situation.
That’s the destructive power of codependency and the drama triangle at work.
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