50 Reasons You Feel Like Shit at Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

I hear from a lot of people who feel tired, stifled, belittled, overwhelmed, and patronized at work. They feel disrespected in meetings, put down by their "teammates," or are just exhausted to their core. So many of us put up with jobs and organizations that diminish who we fundamentally are.  We feel bad, heavy, or mixed up at work but tell ourselves that it's just because we're not tough enough to "hang." We become convinced that since we feel badly, something must be wrong with us.

If you feel like shit at work and are telling yourself to toughen up, then I have something to say:

It's not you. It's them.

You are trying to function in a system that is broken. You're trying to fit into an organization or mode of working that is not very friendly to normal human beings, and when we try to fit into systems that don't work for us, we get sick. Or tired. Or angry. Or all of the above.

If you're working inside of a company, you've likely tuned out a lot of the things that are breaking you down, because to see them all the time would make you go crazy. It often takes an outsider to notice them and say, "Actually, I think that's wrong. And dumb."

In this post, I'm highlighting 50 of the most insidious ways that organizations belittle the people they claim to be committed to (that's you).

I'm doing this because I want you to see what you're up against. I want to help people see so that they stop berating themselves for not being "tough enough" to succeed in these environments. Then, maybe, if we stop trying to fit into them, we'll have the energy to change our organizations for the better.

Some of the practices on the list might seem so benign that they surprise you, but little by little, drip by drip, these practices build to create cultures that are stagnant, devoid of trust, and overrun by egos. You might not experience all of these at your job, but I bet many of them will ring true.

I hope this list reminds you that you a) are not alone and b) are enough - tough enough, smart enough, capable enough - to do amazing work in the world.

For those put off by the title or message of this entry: I'm glad this doesn't resonate with you - it may mean you work in an organization that truly values who you are! 

:: 50 Reasons You Feel Like Shit at Work ::

  1. The supply closets in the office are locked.
  2. You're told - explicitly or implicitly - to keep "personal stuff" out of the office.
  3. Your organization doesn't allow celebrations or recognize holidays of any kind because they're too afraid of being sued.
  4. If you want to apply for an internal posting, you're expected to have a Master's degree, 5 years of experience, and a willingness to be paid at the bottom of market value.
  5. Meetings don't start until people in positions of "leadership" are there, even though everyone else is expected to get there on time - and does.
  6. You're not allowed to decorate and personalize the workspace you inhabit for 8+ hours/day.
  7. Dress codes.
  8. Your company assigns work as a one-way street without any input from the people being asked to do the work.
  9. Most meetings are secretive and closed-door.
  10. The leadership in your organization pretends that everything is fine when it's not. Employees can handle bad news, y'all.
  11. Your time off is limited, capped, monitored, and regulated. If someone's really motivated to work with you, they'll show up and get the job done.
  12. Your manager gets salty when you have to leave early to pick up your kid or go to the dentist.
  13. They're too cheap to stock the coffee station with high quality supplies. Folgers it is.
  14. You know that requests for ergonomic office furniture are always declined, so why bother asking?
  15. You're asked to sign 100 company policies that treat you like a liability more than a trusted partner.
  16. A promotion is dangled in front of you but no one is being real about the fact that it's not going to happen for another year or so.
  17. The front desk is decorated super nicely since it's customer-facing, but the employee break room is sad and nasty.
  18. You're expected to go to company parties that celebrate an organization you aren't excited about.
  19. That new college grad is paid $80,000/year to analyze Excel spreadsheets but management says they can't justify a $0.50/hour raise for the blue collar staff.
  20. You're given 3 days of unpaid bereavement leave after a loved one dies. Oh, and you need to prove that someone actually died.
  21. The company's relationships to shareholders are prioritized over their relationships with employees.
  22. Your supervisor lets you think that your contract will turn into a permanent gig even though they know it probably won't.
  23. Your one on one check-ins are regularly cancelled with little to no consequence.
  24. Performance reviews get pushed back again and again until they're 6 months or a year late. Or don't happen at all.
  25. Unhealthy competition between teams is fostered just to get the numbers up.
  26. Pretty much the entire "disciplinary" process. Give me a break.
  27. Your manager talks about you and your team as if he's playing in a fantasy football league that reduces you to a number and position.
  28. Your organization talks about people solely in terms of their performance (e.g., "low performers" v. "high performers").
  29. End-of-year company bonuses get paid out to the C-suite but to no one else.
  30. Your organization fails to offer high-quality training and then gets annoyed that you're not doing a better job.
  31. You're expected to work in the same way, at the same times, and for the same reasons as everyone else.
  32. You're not given the freedom to just do whatever's necessary to take care of your customers.
  33. Your internet access is restricted at work.
  34. Everyone around you tolerates gossip and politicking.
  35. The physical space is neglected so much that you don't have access to natural light, plants, or other things that make you feel comfortable and human.
  36. They offer you doughnuts once a week but then make clear that you actually don't have a say in how you do your job.
  37. The payroll or HR department is slow to fix issues with your paycheck but somehow very quick to correct any over-payments they've made.
  38. You get in trouble for taking an issue to someone other than your direct supervisor.
  39. The workspaces for new team members aren't set up ahead of time.
  40. The HR professional calls the lawyer more often than she talks to actual employees.
  41. Gratitude goes unspoken because "that's just your job."
  42. Someone's value is directly related to how much time they put in at the office, even if it's spent doing close to nothing.
  43. Bullying is tolerated.
  44. Expense reports.
  45. The leaders around you are allowed to "forget" where credit is due and take it for themselves.
  46. You're rushed to make decisions, but then they take their sweet time to get back to you about that promotion you interviewed for because, well, "you wouldn't understand."
  47. You're not allowed to work from home.
  48. The company increases their recruiting staff but does nothing about the fact that organizational turnover is 100+% for the year.
  49. What you say about work on social media is monitored and could get you in trouble.
  50. The people leading your organization believe that there's no consequence to treating employees like shit.

We can do better.

We can create worklives and organizations that are vibrant and healthy, and that requires us to start by looking at the dark underbelly of many of our workplace cultures.

If you want things to be better or you found yourself nodding along to some of the things on this list, I invite you to find someone to debrief with, whether it's a colleague, your partner, or a friend.