Left A Job- -Very Broken

Question:

I am a Hospice nurse and for the past year have worked on a team with two other women who have been the best of friends for 20 years. Within my first week I was given the long history of my incompetent predecessor (selfish, bad nurse, not a team player, etc.) For the next nine months I watched them stage a coup against our supervisor – a real life witch-hunt, many people in the organization were rallied. It got ugly and personal. It was all done in the name of the “program” and our patients but six months into it I started to feel queasy that it was really about grandiosity. And it was hateful.

From the start I was told that I “fit in” with them (the two friends) that I should only care what they thought of me and quite frankly that is what I took to be my anchor in a small and ever changing (not to mention draining) job. I did want to be a team player, very much. There was a moment when I clearly saw how hateful the environment was and we are HOSPICE NURSES for crying out loud. It was revelatory and disturbing as I saw how I had colluded to some degree by wanting to “fit in.” I became more frustrated with their tactics. I started to see that being a “team player” meant doing things their way and my opinions and attempts to set boundaries were met with patronization and criticism.

The stress was becoming unbearable. Unfortunately, I let it go too long and I lost my cool. When they successfully forced our supervisor out (she couldn’t take it anymore) and I went to the big boss with my point of view and anger about the whole thing. She validated my experience and was frustrated herself but knew the program could not survive without them. Unfortunately, some form of this conversation found its way back to them, the hostility and games grew and I quit. I quit and I am unsettled and shaky that I did something very wrong, could have found a way to make it work, should have been able to rise above the toxicity. I feel like it broke me in a way and I have three weeks to get perspective and arrive at my new Hospice job confident and wiser. Any feedback would be very much appreciated.

Signed,

Quit Hurt


Answer:

Dear Quit Hurt:

The good news is that you have a few days to heal after your unhappy job experience and that you can look forward to joining another Hospice team with renewed commitment to the good it does. Might there be some things you can do to get that “perspective” you long for about what went wrong in the job you quit and arrive at your new job wiser and invigorated? The sad news is that you learned your co-workers, who had been best friends for 20 years, could suck you in to comply with hateful behavior, and likely now you have lost them as friends. Possibly, there is some clean up work you need to do in shaking off the hurt of this loss. Maybe you need, within reason, to tell them why you think things went wrong and why you took this higher without telling them. Reconciliation probably is out of the question, but perhaps a note of apology for your complicity and going above them and an offer to let by-gones be by-gones, at least might free your mind from carrying a grudge and guilt. Or perhaps, it is simply best to not worry more about the past, and you have already hashed out what should have or should not have been said.

The fact is that you felt they behaved badly toward their supervisor and to you and you cannot now change that or them, and now you do not have to relive it; you quit and they may not have learned from that but you have. My first thought is that your e-mail indicates that the past is not yet past and that it is recycling like a broken record in your mind and possibly in conversations with your family and closest friends. That is natural. You need their support. BUT if you replay what happened over and over, the grooves in that record (you can see I am old enough to know that records used to have grooves rather than be digital) can grow deeper and become scratchy. And both you and your listeners will pray that you will get over what is past and get on with your life. Advising you not to be obsessed with the past should forearm you and help you find ways to heal, but that does not mean you should or cannot learn from what occurred. This is to acknowledge that your’s is a story that should be shared and that doing so in limited fashion can be therapeutic. Possibly sharing it with us was a beginning to healing. Possibly you also will need to do so with a professional counselor, a pastor trained in counseling, or a mentor. But doing so should be designed to be a “What Have I Learned” effort and it should not occupy the three weeks you have in recovery. Rather, much talk about the past should be pushed aside by the kind things, perhaps a little self-pampering, you can engage in and the giving things you can do for those who need your caring touch.

I don’t know what interests you have, but I can mention several “treats” and “treatments” you might consider, such as getting a massage (perhaps trading one with a friend), caroling or joining a community chorus, exploring your library one morning (who ever has enough time to do that), seeing a play or movie or getting a DVD from your library, dancing, knitting, quilting, painting a room or doing a painting for a room, yoga, baking or making a recipe you found on the Food Network, writing a long letter to someone you have not seen for too long (by the way, you write quite well and it occurs to me that you might volunteer to be a guest respondent to Ask The Workplace Doctors in light of what you have learned and you might be invited to do so), etc. Make a short trip to visit a relative or someone who is excited about life.

For example, I have a former student whom I would like to visit; one who worked with the homeless in D.C. and New York, and now who is caring for his mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s in Brownsville, Texas.

This said, does not mean you should not reflect on what you have learned the hard way of how important it is to be honest with yourself and others. You don’t detail in what ways you “colluded” in your desire to “fit in”, but reflecting on that should help you know what to avoid in the future. Perhaps, the only thing you did to “collude” with the conspiring co-workers was not to question or challenge their behavior. This unhappy experience taught you that conformity is one of the dangers of over-emphasis on wanting to be a liked member of a team. Whatever you did or didn’t do to “go along” with it should be in your mental notebook and it would be wise to form a list of the don’ts you have learned about conformist team behavior.

A time of reviewing what happened, also should help you would think through what you can do in the future to be an assertive, yet a co-operative team member. Also you probably have learned that bypassing those, whom you talk about, as you did when you spilled your anger to the big boss, almost always is not held in confidence. Whether intentionally or unintentionally what is reported on co-workers usually gets back to them, or at least you will worry that it has or will get back to them. My sister, brothers, and I found a Hospice team supportive at the time of my mother’s illness and death. So in a meaningful, but small way, I can understand how this kind of work can be stressful in itself, and how it became more so when you realized the ugliness of the team out to get your supervisor. The important thing now, in your own healing process is that you find a way to let go of the guilt you feel for “going along” with hateful co-worker behavior. Hopefully, these thoughts will help. Incidentally, my associate Tina Lewis Rowe, the wisest woman I know, may have some thoughts to add to mine. Just reading some of the other Q&As posted with her advice to those seeking it to help them manage difficult workplace situations might also be healing for you.

One thing is certain, what we know is that the unexpected is just around the corner, but we also know that what we have survived has helped us to be forewarned and forearmed for the unexpected. I predict that you will be an even more effective Hospice nurse because of your experience and will bring both solace and cheer to those in need and your future co-workers. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Quick Follow Up: Thank you for the gift of your reply on this, my first day of shaking the dust off a very tough year. I have many self care activities planned, uncannily some of the very things you mentioned.

I would like to learn more about group dynamics and find it interesting that as a nurse we joke with each other that “nurses eat their young.” Most of my friends, women and men alike, will tell you that women working with women is often dreadful. I have raised two children to be strong and independent thinkers, to resist group think no matter the cost of alienation. I clearly remember teaching my now grown daughter that the rules of being a part of the “in” crowd means that you must consent to keeping someone “out.” My crisis of sorts has been that I betrayed my own integrity in an effort to prove my worth as a team member.

Rule one will be to never, ever under any circumstance utter an unkind thought or opinion about anyone I work with or for. Rule two will be to accept the unappealing truth that there are people who thrive in a mean spirited political environment. How precisely to be a sucessful team player is something I need to learn more about.

In any case, thank you for your wise and kind counsel.

Going to knit,

William Gorden