Every time we leave a toxic work environment, we think to ourselves,
“It can’t possibly get worse than that. The next job will be better.”
Oh how wrong I was.
In the summer of my First Failure (FF), I found a job at a family sign shop.
A little backstory: I had interviewed at the sign shop once before and did not get the
job. A girl we will call Jill was hired instead. Shortly after, I was offered the job at the FF. During my unemployment, I saw the manager—we’ll call him Jeff—was hiring again so I went in for another interview believing the coincidence to be fated.
I was hired on the spot.
The sheer joy of finding another job only a week after the FF was an astonishing feeling. I called my best friend, my husband, anyone who was available and told them about the great job I’d found.
My first day, I was trained by Jill and someone we will call Gollum (this will make sense later). They were the two women working in the production area of the shop. I was hired to replace the graphic artist, who was fired for both price-gouging and undercharging clients.
Going home after a fun, long day at work, I thought something seemed off about Jill but maybe it was just me. Otherwise, everything else seemed great.
My second day, Jill was absent. Gollum trained me.
Red Flag 1:
Never, ever, ever trust anyone who begins talking shit about your fellow coworkers after having your acquaintance for less than 48 hours. I was shocked. Immediately, Gollum began speaking poorly about Jeff and Jill:
“Jeff is an asshole and you will come to realize that. He talks down to everyone. He is such a dick. Jill is on drugs, I’m pretty sure. I used to work in a rehab facility so I know what I am talking about. I also went to Med School so I know all of the symptoms. You probably think I’m a bitch.”
I gave the benefit of the doubt, “No, I don’t think you’re a bitch,” but I definitely did. How can you not? She was tactlessly over-sharing her opinions on my second day.
Regardless, I shrugged off the day and assumed it was an anomaly.
It was not an anomaly.
Red Flag 2:
On my third day, I traveled with Gollum to a site install and survey. She started smoking weed in the car, “This is THC for sure. Just don’t tell anyone. I don’t care if you see, though.” Obviously uncomfortable, I ignored her and stared out the window of the passenger side seriously trying to have a fierce benefit of the doubt.
Then, the worst thing happened: Gollum shared her personal life:
I learned her husband is addicted to meth, does drugs around their two-year-old, was abusive, and that she had a baby with him because he was convenient. She started to cry in the car.
I did my best to comfort her and then the day ended.
Red Flag 3:
Jill did not show up for the rest of the week. Or the week after. Or the week after. Then, she showed up for three days and then never again. She went to prison for fraudulent prescription to acquire drugs. I absorbed her position and was no longer a graphic designer but a production specialist instead.
Red Flag 4:
During the four weeks Jill was employed/absent before the arrest, Gollum was absent also. A lot.
Her excuses varied from having a sick child, headache, surprise doctor’s appointment etc. They were obvious lies but I kept my thoughts to myself. I was new.
In fact, with only four days training, I was running all of the production with the help of the warehouse workers/craftsman from the back shop (they are wonderful people and I have nothing bad to say about them).
Red Flag 5:
Three months after my first day, Jeff was fired for under and over-charging customers and nearly running the company bankrupt. It’s a good thing he was training me on pricing things out. NOT.
I continued attempting to keep my chin up and stay happy. Gollum and I were getting along okay when she wasn’t crying or when she actually showed up to work.
Red Flag 6:
Her husband/baby-daddy showed up to the office while we were working late at night and threatened me on the phone because I was allegedly “protecting her” by answering the phone while she was in the bathroom. I apparently came up in their court session.
Obviously, the work environment was dangerous to both her and me.
Red Flag 7:
The new manager came in. We will call him Hunter.
Hunter is a yogi, vegan, hippie-dippie guy. We had a lot in common personally (sort of) and he was very friendly at first.
Gollum and Hunter had a lot in common, too: same age and same experience level. I was naïve to think this would not soon turn into a problem.
To make a long story short, Hunter was becoming increasingly aggressive with me when I asked questions. He would slam doors in my face, slam his fist on the table, and use a thick layer of sarcasm I consider deeply inappropriate for the workplace. On top of that, I had no idea why he seemed so angry with me and so chummy/lenient with Gollum. Well, I soon found out.
Gollum was a nasty liar.
Apparently, she had been telling Hunter I did not remember or do things she asked of me. I was furious because it became evident she did this to cover her own mistakes. I have a fantastic memory and sense of duty and here she was spreading lies about both to elevate her position.
So came the final straw:
The day before, a client had come in and requested a sign be ready next-day. We typically do not do this so I had no reason to think there were rush orders unless otherwise told.
I was not told.
What she DID tell me the day before was, “I don’t think I will come to work tomorrow.”
To which I responded, “Are you serious? Why would you tell me that?” We had an astounding amount of work to do and I could not handle the blatant disregard.
“I just don’t think I will feel well.”
Lo and behold, the next morning I went into work and found an email from 2am:
“At the ER with my kid. Will not be in today. Please take care of Projects A and B from my stack. The rest is okay to wait.”
YEAH RIGHT. ER my ass.
Luckily, she did not have much extra work for me to take care of, so I did it.
Then a customer walks in to pick up his sign. The sign was not ready and I had no idea what he was talking about. We told him it would be ready in the afternoon. Customer left in a huffy—I don’t blame him.
Hunter was furious. He messaged Gollum, “Would have been nice to know. Thanks for the heads up.” How snarky is that? Totally unprofessional, despite the point.
Well, Gollum calls up crying her eyes out about how I was wrong and it was my responsibility. Not only did she call eight times that day, crying no less, but Hunter began yelling at me to the point where I yelled back.
“This was your responsibility! why didn’t you take care of it? She said you were told multiple times!”
“Who am I supposed to believe?!” he shouted, slamming the table.
“I don’t know!” at this point, I was shaking and blacking out with rage. I took a walk.
Apparently, while I was on a walk, one of the other people in the office told him Gollum was a liar and had been lying about nearly everything the entire time. TOO LATE. All the previous flags were too obvious in hindsight.
In other words, this work environment had seven major factors leading to my departure:
My coworker had a habit of oversharing.
My coworker smoked weed at work.
My trainer was fired/arrested.
My hiring manager was fired.
My coworker missed a collective 7 weeks of the 9 mos I worked there.
My new manager was violently bitter and petty.
I was blamed for everything.
I was very much over it. So, here I am. On the hunt.
As much resentment as I have for her business tactics—or lack thereof—I understand her situation was different than my own. That said, she was an adult, twenty years beyond me, and I cannot pity those who have the tools to fix their lives and repeatedly choose not to. Especially since she was making decisions based on her sex life, not her child’s safety.
Never put up with toxicity, no matter how hard quitting seems. Nobody should subject themselves to a non-beneficial workplace. I left because the skills I expected to receive were replaced with drama, lies and more drama. It was a better career move to leave the job and, although I went through the stages of doubt, I know my decision was the only decision that improved the situation.