Escaping a dead-end job

In almost every job, there comes that moment of dreadful clarity when you finally realize that your employers have no intention of providing adequate compensation for your efforts on their behalf. They may be perfectly willing to shower you with attaboys, but steadily maintain that business conditions prevent them from giving you any raises.

You realize that the long days, the late nighters, and the sacrificed holidays with your family were all for nothing. This is such a catastrophic letdown that your normally ebulent/hopeful/cynical mood (choose one) can change to chronic apathy. Read on, because there is a way out of this apparent dead end.

Sometimes, the best of jobs can turn into a dead-end job even though you are pulling off miracles every week. Human nature being what it is, you can find that your accomplishments are being ignored while other employees find favor for work that is slipshod and erratic. Sometimes this is due to nepotism, but more often it is due to subtle prejudices that your employer is not even aware that he has.

Owner/managers tend to validate activities that they understand and devalue those that they don’t understand. They may view your activities as a necessary evil. Technical people in a non-technical firm experience this, but it also happens to salesmen, contract negotiators, and the backbone of all small businesses, the office manager!

So, if you find yourself in a dead-end job, you are not alone. If you are like most employees in this situation, you have been seeking appropriate recognition for many years. Somewhere, back in your early youth, you were given the idea that if you worked hard and followed the rules, you would be rewarded for it. You probably ignored those who told you that most employers were out to exploit you and would discard you when you were no longer useful.

I know that I did. My father, a thirty year veteran of Westinghouse, had this advice when I first began my career. “You can’t rely on their promises. They will suck you dry and then spit you out.” He wasn’t bitter, just concerned for my welfare. I shrugged off his concerns, because I wasn’t a commodity, a clerical worker, I was a highly sought-after design engineer.

He was right, of course, but for the first twenty years of my career, I changed jobs whenever my pay failed to keep up with my contributions. What I didn’t realize was that I was a commodity with an openly quoted market price. My ability to find new jobs was determined by supply and demand for design engineers. If my current employer didn’t want to pay the going rate, someone else would. I changed jobs every three years, each time getting a fifteen to twenty percent increase in salary.

Eventually, the days of reckoning came when I reached the executive ranks. Being a Director of Product development or a VP of Operations, I was much closer to the political maelstrom that exists in some companies. Performance was secondary to political correctness, and I have issues with that sort of ranking. As a result, I began to experience the pangs of being ignored at raise time and found that there was little apparent demand for my specialized abilities elsewhere.

I was able to handle this, but it took many iterations over the next twenty-five years to be able to escape dead-end jobs cheerfully. Here is some basic data which can help you:

1. Do the best work that you are capable of every day. This will give you the confidence to seek new work when it becomes time.

2. Consider yourself a long-term contractor, not an employee. The company will discard you when it becomes expedient. You should be prepared to do the same.

3. When it becomes apparent that you are not going to be rewarded for your work, don’t whine, get busy locating another job immediately. Stay employed, but network like crazy until you turn up another opportunity. I am not going to repeat how to prepare yourself for this next job because I have written many posts about this already.

4. I discovered another useful escape route from a dead-end job when there is no one to network with.

This came from observing a young relative who found herself in this situation after eight years of major accomplishments. Promised raises never seem to occur, although others in the company fare better. She has decided to go back to school and get another degree to give her professional standing in an area which she is already competent.

She had gotten herself into the trap of immersing herself into her work and failed to develop a network of other professionals she could consult with. Her expectation is that she will be able to develop a network of useful contacts through the graduate business courses she will be taking. I think she will have a good chance of doing that.

Hope this helps those of you in similar circumstances. To make it easier in the future, I plan on compiling my articles on surviving work into a book which will be available on line. I have the cover photo in mind, but the title is still up in the air.

Good luck on making a clean escape!

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