When I was younger I used to believe that getting a good education and working hard would offer me a stable life. I learned real quick that many companies don’t reward hard work anymore – at least not like I thought they did.
I believe in hard work. I think people should be rewarded on what they produce. But all too often the wrong people get promoted. Employees get preferential treatment and enjoy more benefits and opportunities as long as they don’t make any waves, toe the organizational line, and always support their boss.
When we first come across such a dysfunctional work environment (especially early in our career), we are not sure what to make of it. We recognize that such preferential treatment of less qualified employees is neither ethical nor fair, but we don’t know how to handle it.
Having little experience, we first tend to question our perceptions. We rationalize away many of the warning signs. “Maybe it’s just me” or “maybe I’m just being unreasonable or selfish” or “maybe I’m just being over-sensitive” we tell ourselves.
When rationalization doesn’t work anymore, we try to wish the problems away. “Maybe hope or prayer will change my situation,” we think. But wishful thinking rarely works.
Sometimes we try to correct the inequity by working harder. But in a dysfunctional organization, the extra work might get us the 2% or 3% raise but the compensation is in no way commensurate with the work performed.
Some employees opt for more training and education. This is great for personal growth and marketability but may have only minimal impact on your career. It can backfire when an unethical boss claims it distracts you from your job and uses it as an excuse to pass you up for a promotion.
Finally, some employees chose to confront their managers. But why should management change when so far there have been no repercussions from the higher-ups? In fact, the confrontation serves as a challenge to the status-quo. Do this, and you are already on your way out and don’t even realize it.
So what’s a person to do in such an unjust work environment?
First of all, realize you are not crazy, selfish, or over-sensitive. The problem is not necessarily one of your making.
Second, understand that there is little you can do to change your conditions and motivate management to do the right thing. The louder you demand fairness the worse things may get for your career. Most likely you will either be fired or forced to quit.
Third, never compromise your integrity and common sense to placate the boss (or satisfy his need for validation and adulation). Never emulate the “I must do whatever it takes to get ahead” behavior that seems so successful and effective for many around you. Never imitate the unethical and abusive management styles of your superiors just so you can get a raise.
Fourth, while you must still give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, you are not required to work more or harder when your work is not rewarded and recognized. Don’t sacrifice your personal and family life in exchange for empty promises. Don’t give your superiors and your organization anything beyond what is reasonably required of your job.
Build Your Tunnel
In the meantime bide your time while you build your tunnel in order to escape from the dysfunctional environment. Look for an arena that more closely matches your individual skills, experience, interests, and personality. Look for companies that care about you as an individual, compensate your contributions fairly, and where you can grow professionally.
Consider starting your own business or firm or some other group or venture that gives you a stage big enough for your skills and abilities. Channel your passions, energy and efforts in endeavors that help you become independent. Define and follow your calling.
Don’t forget that as you build your tunnel do not tell anyone at work. Many will try to derail your hopes and aspirations so that they can promote themselves. Others will resent your independence. Be aware that many people do not want the truth to break through.