After a decade as a journalist, Jennifer Branton is on the path to finding a balance between career and writing.
The Invisible Coworker
The desk across from me has been empty for about a week now. I only have three days left on my two week notice as I embark on a new career with another company- the third one in my office to do so in the last month.
The empty desk where Nicole sat still contains all her things and no one is sure if she ever formally gave a notice or just plans to show up one day after a now nine day streak of not showing up and expect to punch the clock like she was coming back from a weekend. I keep telling all my soon to be former coworkers to keep me posted on the Nicole saga.
Of those that have recently departed from the company, two have only worked here for under a year. Three if you count the invisible coworker that Nicole has become. In the three years I have been here, I have steadily been crossing off names from the list of extensions that I have pinned to my bulletin board. So many crossed out names that I can't quite exactly remember how all was who. Was Brenda the one with the reddish hair or was that Amber? Has Rose outlasted Lettica who left soon after the Christmas party of last year? How about Gabrielle, has anyone spoken to her?
When I had first taken the job at this company, it was far below the pay scale of the job I had previously been laid off from, but it offered the one thing that I was really in the market for at the time- health insurance as the current mandate was that all people filing taxes needed proof of insurance, so I sucked it up and accepted the meager offer without negotiation for just the benefits package in hopes that I would find something that I was passionate about for better pay.
Three years later I am finally walking out the door.
So what took so long?
Whatever Happened To Journalism
When I exited college, Bachelors of Journalism in hand and began to pound the pavement for a job, it was an unfortunate time in 2005 where newspapers were drying up in the wake of newswires and the internet driven news site where the same stringer had supplied the story to six different news outlets.
I wished that our professors had prepared us a little more for the change in the field, still starry eyed from writing for college media and the freelancing I had done for years around Chicago for those specialized magazines on music, theater, and around town events with little blurbs and interviews with visiting musicians. By the time I was leaving college, I had realized I was paying far too much in concert tickets than what I was making back on my writing but I was happy and making a name for myself in entertainment journalism and was the "go to" reviewer for many of the clubs I frequented on weekends for a write up on their weekend DJ or hous bands.
I freelanced writing press kits and contributed writing to websites.
The exposure was there but the money wasn't. The type of Journalism I knew in college was dying and the hopes of writing for an entertainment magazine were fading fast. I fell into retail jobs and office work as a way to have a guaranteed paid check until I was paid for a story that might run here or there.
Before too long I was trapped in the nine to five world and writing became something that I could do online maybe for a few bucks here or there, more for the exposure and sharing ideas factor than any notoriety.
As I got older adult responsibilities set in and I saw less and less shows downtown and away went the night life. Then the weekend life as I made up overtime trying to pay off student loans.
I went back to school for another degree while working full time and still I hadn't found a real career.
With bills to pay and insurance needed, nearly a decade out of college the first time and in debt to my eyeballs from the second degree,here I was taking a job that I didn't care for the pay or position just for the paycheck.
The Dysfunctional Office
Naive when I first joined, I couldn't really see what all the griping around me was about but I was quick to be among their numbers. Although the workplace harassment seminar has spoke against favoritism, it was quickly noted that the bosses had pets that were expected to contribute to the work place and were perfectly fine to stand around the water cooler rather than process paperwork and answer their emails. I noticed bosses that would walk straight past someone that was clearly on Facebook to walk up to an employee that was already on the phone or engaged with a handful of paperwork and put an extra assignment on the person actually doing something than address the one slacking off.
Older women around me that had done their time with the company for a decade before spent their time putting on makeup or gossiping, letting me be the one to struggle through all the incoming calls, biting my head off as I asked for clarification on paperwork. I nearly walked out a dozen times, but I am stubborn and I wasn't going to let them get the best of me.
I pulled my supervisor aside and made my first complaint of what I was seeing and I was actually reprimanded for my job performance for making a complaint rather than taking up the slack. I know that I should have complained to human resources but I was under the impression from the supervisor they wouldn't care either as everyone here was grandfathered into some sort of lack of caring as this was how the business had always run and always will run.
Since it was a private owner with only one location to their name, I didn't have much recourse and I within months began to interview elsewhere. Only nothing promising came along that was worth accepting and I was afraid to take a chance as I needed to pay off my loans and keep afloat on my other bills.
More Invisible Coworkers
Eventually I overcame being the new person and was accepted into the frey of the work place. I still wasn't happy, and learned no one was happy.
Almost three years in and I had only received two dollars more an hour than I had signed on for when I started the job, informed that the boss didn't believe in raises and thought all that talk about raising the minimum wage was people bellyaching. I felt dejected. I had two degrees and was working a full time job at ten dollars an hour just to have a paycheck for a boss that laughed at people wanting betterment for the family.
From what I understood of the boss was that they had always worked for the same company for the last forty some years, brought into the workforce in a time of our grandparents where you accepted a job out of high school and worked there until retirement. The boss didn't understand new ideas and when in meetings coworkers and our project manager would come up with ways to simplify procedures and benefit the company and its customers, we were always silenced.
The boss didn't want changes we learned. Anyone that encouraged new thoughts or ideas was a blasphemer in her eyes, and she was the reason all the young talent was leaving the company. That an the terrible hourly wage that made no sense in an office of its size.
Little by little as less and less money was pumped into the office and our equipment became more and more outdated compared to competitors, the talent drained from our office and people took other employment. I always suspected that the boss and other supervisors began to realize that the company was slowly going under or was to be sold off as they stopped ordering water for the water cooler and began to fill it from the kitchen sink. Mysteriously things like paper towel and hand soap stopped being replenished and employees began to bring it from home.
I had my drawers in my desk stuffed with things I might need as simple things like plastic forks and spoons were no longer on reorder in the kitchen.
What did I expect though, my computer on my desk was still running on Windows XP with that old person philosophy of "If it still turns on, it must be fine." The IT person quit not longer after.
There were so many empty desks that were never filled with new bodies and the memory of coworkers that had hit the door running were just names scratched out on the extension list.
So stressed out from the daily nonsense at a job that was slowly killing me, I was taking medication for stress and anxiety and blood pressure. I could easily understand why coworkers had nervous breakdowns in their cars on lunch and people crying in the kitchen. This company was on life support and no one in management or ownership had anything to say about it.
I had to get out of here.
It took a long time to find the right position for me where I will find a future I hope. It makes me a little sad to know other than the writing I do, I will never had a big news job as I dreamed in college and have to do the nine to five dance of adulthood in the meantime, but three years at that terrible company really taught me a lot more at the business world than any other office experience I had in college.
I was broken down and once the work place started to effect my health, I knew that I just physically couldn't do it anymore. Once I had moved I was losing more money in gas and the commute than it was worth to go to the terrible job.
When all hope was lost a great opportunity fell into my lap at a great company where I hope to find a future.
I knew that I couldn't carry on much longer at the old terrible company. I hope that all my friends that are left behind find something better as well. Once the stress from the job impacted my health I knew that I just couldn't do it anymore and it shouldn't have come down to that.
I understand the company had stuck to what had always worked for them, but they have to get with the times and new business models as it cost them most of their talent and perhaps everyone that currently works there. I wouldn't be surprised in a year or two time to find out that where I had worked for the last three years has gone under or sold to another company.
I wish them well.
Jennifer B (author) from Bolingbrook on April 14, 2018:
I'm enjoying the new job. I actually have a weekend job dog walking as well so I guess with writing I kinda of have three jobs, but I'm saving for a house so it helps.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 14, 2018:
I am sad that this thing happened to you. I hope you are now in a job that is better. I worked as an education planner and this is where our schools have failed, to help prepare students for the workplace.