Ask a Manager: How do you know if something is worth complaining about…

I love reading Ask a Manager. I just came across this relatively-recent post which expressed some thoughts I’ve had, and coached my peers through. Because this question seems common to many, I figured I would share here. “When you’re inexperienced, how can you know if something is worth complaining about or leaving a job over?” (Posted October 12, 2020).

In her response, Alison Green points out that if you’re more in-demand, more experienced, or simply unhappy, you’re more likely to (and able to comfortably) complain or leave a job over insulting and dismaying scenarios.

She mentions, “All of this points to proceeding with caution when you’re relatively new to the work world — and testing your assessment of a situation with people you respect who have more experience to draw on. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to push back on something or leave a job if you’re unhappy — that’s your prerogative at any time.”

I really like her suggestion of sanity-testing your assumptions, though. When you’re new to the working world, or just new to a particular role or position, you might think something is strange, unfortunate, or even horrifying because it’s not how you personally might do that thing. When you test that feeling of, “Is this ok or am I mistaken?” you get a lot more data than if you just react.

One thing I’ve learned from the working world is that I should never just react — I know that I can check in with my own feelings, a trusted advisor or mentor, or a family member (though — be skeptical if your family doesn’t share a career focus area with you! Technology is very different from library science is dramatically unlike truck driving…)

I always swallow my first reaction to a novel situation at work. I quickly verify how I feel and how I should be feeling, just to make sure I’m not wildly off-base. Surprise or dismay can make a small indignity feel much larger than it really is, or needs to be. I can’t tell you how enraged I’ve been over a too-large backpack hitting me in a crowded conference room, or hurt I’ve been by an offhand comment about my appearance from a coworker.

Now that I’ve been in two different careers for more than ten years, each, I can check in with myself first, and then reach out to someone else…Luckily, these days, I don’t necessarily need to check in with another person, at all, because I have these years’ worth of history that I can compare new feelings and new situations to.

Personally, I believe it’s a serious error of judgement to react before you think, in the business world. I’ve seen people rage-quit jobs, and they almost always regret doing so. Or even lower-stakes, when someone yells in front of a meeting’s audience, they don’t generally feel good about it later. If you find yourself experiencing strong emotions at work, take a breath, step away from the situation if you can, and check in with a trusted peer or a relative. If you determine that it’s appropriate to do so, respectfully complain to the person you’re emoting at, your manager, your HR business partner, or someone with power at your place of employment.

You can be the change you want to see in the world – but changing whether or not your loud boss closes his door when he’s on a call, or threatening to quit when they change the brand of coffee in the kitchenette – those aren’t good looks. Tread carefully when you feel yourself emoting in the workplace!

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