Over the years, I have worked at many companies that were awesome to all appearances, but were home to a bunch of miserable employees---almost always in spite of the best intentions of the management. As is my habit, I spent a lot of time pondering why this tends to happen and I've identified some common threads.
As an employer, there are a few things for which, if you get them right you can get just about everything else wrong and get away with it--even come out of it with your employees loving you. On the other hand, I've worked at companies where I spent a huge amount of time enjoying free food and booze while commiserating with my co-workers about our terrible working conditions. That may sound ungrateful, but the truth is no amount of perks can make up for the things that really count.
Feeling like the people you work with, or worse the people you work for, don't care about same things you do is a discouraging prospect. If you are a person who cares deeply about user experience and work for a company that doesn't understand what is wrong with pop ups and banner ads, you are never going to be happy there. If you care about best practices and standards compliance, but your boss doesn't get why it takes you such a long time to write code, you're going to be pretty frustrated.
A mismatch of core values like these leave you with a couple of unappealing choices. Either give up on the things you are passionate about and treat your work as an unpleasant chore, or spend your time and energy alternately fighting or sneaking around to do a good job. I've come to recognize that feeling as a sign that it is time to move on.
This is one of those things that sounds obvious once articulated, but often escapes notice otherwise. People are happy when they have the power to do their job well. When they are unable to fill their role effectively, they are not.
There are a million and one things that could stand in the way of being able to do your job and do it well, ranging from bad process to simple incompetence. Some common problems I have seen are lack of good information flow, wasteful and non-productive process, and ownership that is not aligned to responsibility, inclination and aptitude. Whatever the reason, the feeling that you are not providing value leads to the kind of demoralization that extends beyond the work day.
There are some obvious ways to let people know they are appreciated, and these are too often neglected. Appropriate salaries and titles, regular performance reviews, even just saying "thank you" can make a big difference. But I've found that far more often the things that are really devastating are more subtle. Things like failing to consult someone about decisions that affect their area of expertise, leaving them to find out incidentally about major and relevant events, or giving tasks within their domain to an outside party--these things leave a person feeling pretty crappy. When you've taken ownership and killed yourself for your job, feeling as though you've been disregarded makes you wonder why you bother.
I'm going to make a bold (and probably wrong) statement and say that if you are unhappy at your job--the deep seeded, soul crushing kind of unhappy--the reason falls into one of these three categories. Figure out which one, and tell someone about it. Your boss probably really wants to understand what they are doing wrong, and it may be something that can be solved with frank communication. And if not--move on, find a better fit. There are precious few jobs worth the cost of your soul. I'm willing to bet this isn't one of them.
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