Thursday, January 7, 2016

How do you forget old workplace hurts?

My father, whom I love, is now retired from his job as an engineer and happily traveling and learning new things. One thing that surprises me is how he can remember bureaucratic fights from 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, as if it were yesterday. What concerns me more than the bad memories is that the bad emotions (anger, jealousy, bitterness) are still there.

Does anyone have any advice about how to get people to move on from old hurts? That's difficult and it's fairly apparent that hurts that take place in the workplace can be quite personal and strike deeply at the core of the person. What is the right approach? To never talk about the issue again? To deal with "it" (a layoff, an insult at a meeting, stolen credit) and then never talk about it again?

Readers, your thoughts?

51 comments:

  1. CJ, the reason some of us read and keep coming back is because we understand those workplace hurts and feel like you and your commenters provide much-needed camaraderie. Sometimes only other chemists will understand the insults that we endure. We're here to talk about it with each other. (Says someone who has been insulted, overworked, stressed-out, layed off, underpaid, under-utilized, and forced to bear it in silence.)

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    1. I guess what I'm saying is that it helps to find someone to talk to.

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    2. Wow. That's pretty heavy. I don't think I've realized how much of C-Jobs' readership was actually people affected by layoffs at big companies until reading the posts the last week about Dupont and seeing the comments from Dupont scientists. Good luck echoes.

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    3. Thanks, uncle sam, but I am not from Dupont (my heart goes out to them...this affects people I know.) I was actually laid off twice within three years between 2008 and 2010 and took a job across the country for about 60% of the pay that I was accustomed to earning. I had to do something...I have little kids to feed. Anyway, I am now in a situation that pays much better and I am not quite as under-utilized, but I guess no situation is going to be a dream job at my level anymore.

      Best thing that ever happened to me career-wise? Found another chemist who had been through similar (there are lots of those around here) to confide in. There's nothing like a good friend.

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  2. This is how I try to deal with hurts. I don't think you can force somebody else to deal with their feelings.

    A. Forgive the *$$-hole who slighted you. Even when you don't want to and are 100% convinced that they are in the wrong. Holding on to grudges never helps YOU, nor does it help anyone else in your workplace.

    B. Try to understand why what happened happened. Was there a miscommunication? Were the parties involved under some kind of stress that led them to respond badly? Is the individual who wronged you simply a sociopath, in which case you shouldn't take it personally?

    C. Admit to yourself that you are in the wrong, too. Even if it's a minor fault (like allowing yourself to get too heated in the middle of an argument) or a bigger issue with your personality. Admitting that you made mistakes or handled a situation badly is tough, and I think a lot of people are really bad at it.

    Sometimes people seem angry at the past because they wish they could of done things differently, and it is easier to feel anger than regret.

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    1. What she said. :-)

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    2. When I have been able to deal with the hurts successfully, it's gone as St Andrews Lynx described.

      I haven't been able to make that happen every time. (Lately, less than half the time?) C, in particular, has been difficult due to a very difficult boss situation. I would welcome any suggestions on making these steps easier to take....

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    3. In dealing with a bad boss situation, I've found it helpful to treat it as an opportunity to improve my own ability to manage. Remember how this made you feel and vow not to put anyone else in the same situation. It also helps me to feel some empathy, the fact of the matter is the boss probably doesn't realize what he is doing is unfair or unreasonable. Thinking about how I would avoid doing it myself helps me understand why he is doing it in the first place.

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    4. It's important to distinguish between incidents which take place in the heat of the moment, and calculated malice. I've experienced both in my various workplaces. I can forgive the former, but I never, ever forget nor forgive the latter.

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  3. burn their house down 2o years later...depends on the hurt though, I guess

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    1. The risk with gasoline is that it goes out too fast and the flame isn't hot enough. That's why arson investigators recommend 1:1 mix of diesel with gasoline - it lights up fast but then diesel keeps the flames going

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    2. I like your style. I'm going to try the curbstomp-all-their-teeth-out method myself, I'll let you know how that feels.

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    3. And a little White Phosphorus in the mix to keep things lively around the house. :-)

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    5. For a building with fire suppression sprinklers, CaC2 and Na could bring back fun into funeral

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  4. If in your fathers case its anger directed toward particular individuals: Having worked in academic science almost my entire career, Ive dealt with a lot of difficult people. I guess what I see, pretty much in every case, there is a good reason why a particular individual is nasty. Once I understand the reason why a particular individual is engaging in crappy behavior I wont feel quite as angry in return.

    So I suggest having your father think about WHY a person or organization was crappy.

    For example, I am collaboating with a lab with an angry research associate (even angrier than I am). However, after a casual talk, I can see why: she has an advisor that yells at her and everybody else in the lab, and she was caught badly in the housing implosion (which I bet BT from Regina, SK shorted)and had to declare bankruptcy. This knowledge makes her a little more tolerable to me (although I cannot condone BT's putative actions).

    Also, in my experience, time heals. When I left my post-doc I was obsessed with hating my former advisor. 15 years later I almost never think about him and when I do, I shrug. Also, in his case, I very clearly understand why he was the nasty F*ck-up that he was, and that makes me feel better.

    If its anger toward institutions, his anger is likely fully legitimate. Not sure how to handle that, except be grateful he can retire, because many hard working individuals cannot.

    Finally: I find with parents, many of them, unfortunately, get worse with age, so that is a a possibility with your father. My mom is getting angrier and angrier as time passes, for example. But that happened to her mother as well.

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    1. NMH, I appreciate your comment.

      However, I am beginning to note a personal tone about biotechtoreador. That's not welcome here.

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    2. OK, I will desist. I was just trying to be funny.

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    3. Of course, these people's reasons can also be terrible. That doesn't mean that understanding them won't help you out. After a long time, I figured out that despite opposite appearances, my former advisor is just terrified of everything. They act how they do to protect themselves from imaginary attacks, coming from every direction. Now, I realize they're pathetic, and can kind of laugh at them. They're still committing evil, but it helps me.

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  6. Letting go is my highest aspiration. Perhaps this will always be work in progress... :)
    What helps is a three-step:
    - understand core motivation of people in control;
    - forgive all perceived wrongs;
    - learn from experience and never forget it.

    My personal test for how I do is this: when thinking about the past event still hurts I either don't understand it or I haven't forgiven. When it doesn't hurt anymore there is a chance that I transformed the experience into a memory and I am ready to use it.

    There is nothing wrong with holding to old memories. What ends up hurting us is either reliving old emotions as if they were happening now, or pretending to forget.

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  7. Hi-

    I can appreciate what others have written here. Also because of my experiences in the US, Germany and the UK. It's my understanding that a lot of people go through a stage where they think to themselves "if only I had made "choice B' instead of "choice A" ". So here are my coping strategies:
    1. Ask yourself if "choice B" really was guaranteed to be better than "choice A". When it comes down to it, you really have no evidence to support that assertion, if you had taken "choice B", then of course it "es wäre schon möglich dass es ebenfalls in den Hosen gegangen wäre" (sorry the equivalent expression in English slips my mind).

    2. Just recently in my cover letters for different academic positions, I have stopped trying to justify e.g., a lack of recent publications etc. Instead, I have learned to write a story, in which each chapter concludes with how I have taken advantage of the changing circumstances for further self-improvement and addressed the resulting challenge. For example, the time after recently losing my most recent academic position for reasons which were completely out of my control. Instead I write about using the time afterwards to thoroughly prepare new research concepts and write a real funding proposal. That (IMHO) is a really great way of concluding a cover letter, and enticing the selection committee into reading the description of the research ideas.

    3. If all else fails in dealing with past frustration, then I write an angry essay about it, but (try to) keep it to myself. Sometimes I have bounced it off of others, who remind me about how negative it sounds.

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    1. GC, I think the translation you're looking for in point #1 is "it's possible that you would have been hosed just the same." (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun...)

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    3. Hi Bryan,

      Shoot me either an e-mail or drop a line, if you're curious about the incident which first came to mind. It's not "science fiction"!

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  8. I agree with much of what the other posters said, especially St Andrews Lynx and SJ.

    It takes a lot of humility to admit you are wrong. Even if I wasn't especially wrong in a particular situation, I would be lying if I said that I haven't done hurtful things to others. I don't like that, and it's hard to accept, but it is reality. I think that is part of what makes part (C) of what St Andrews Lynx said difficult- at first, it's twice as hard: one, you feel hurt or wronged, and two, you realize you aren't perfect either (and that removes the ability to justify self-righteous anger, so maybe it's three times as hard!)

    But anyway, it is also my aspiration to learn to let go, or put another way, to "accept." I refused to do that for a long time, because I thought "accept" means the same thing as "agree with" or "is fair/just that this is happening", etc. But it isn't the same at all. It means that whatever is happening, is happening regardless of how you feel about it. Along these lines, it is neither good(healthy) to deny how you feel, nor is is healthy to empower negative feelings (e.g. self-righteous anger and impulsive actions).

    What I found is at some point (after not a very long time, as it turns out), the hurt or anger turns into a ball and chain that one keeps dragging around. So the sooner one can deal with it, the better.

    Having said that, this is a work in progress for me (something I'll have to work on for the rest of my life, most likely).

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    1. "Having said that, this is a work in progress for me (something I'll have to work on for the rest of my life, most likely)."

      For you and everyone else. Self-improvement is a lifelong journey, full stop.

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  9. Two thoughts:

    (1) I'm not surprised that bureaucratic fights can stay in one's memory for decades. The ability to keep track of reputations, group affiliation, who's on what team -- all of it is wired into human nature.

    (2) There is an old Hasidic teaching that a person should carry two slips of paper in his pocket at all times: on one should be written "I am but dust and ashes", and on the other "The world was created for my sake". Sometimes you need to read one, sometimes the other, and the challenge in life is knowing which one to read.

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    1. I agree this can be somewhat wired in to human nature as admittedly I still have memories of differences I had with my siblings growing up.

      There is some sound advice in responses particular about time taking sting out however CJ I wonder if your father had to deal with the people involved or saw negative repercussions of the events for a long period afterwards therefore was never really able to compartmentalize, resolve and move on because of continued reminders. I know there is one former Supervisor On my Back where I have been glad I have moved to a new area of chemistry where paths have not crossed at meetings since if I had ever seen him probably would have asked if he was still the same old "lying back-standing incompetent manager".

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  10. For far too many, it help to google 'pf*ck pf*zer' and 'pfired.'

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  11. Remember that your anger isn't affecting at all the other person who you feel wronged you. There are some people that are second degree connections on LinkedIn that I won't miss if I never them see again. I could get angry and think of how two faced someone I worked with is, but that doesn't prove anything. I know that she is happy and successful (and likely continuing in her behavior while being rewarded for it) while I'm upset.

    There is a cat at the shelter that I met this week for the first time. When I took him out of his cage, it was obvious that his back leg had once been broken and he walked with a limp. That cat was the one who jumped to the highest shelf on his own and had been playing with the ceiling tiles. He didn't let his past hurt stop him and was not afraid to jump.

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  12. In one of my former positions, I had extremely bad relationships with a couple of people in my subgroup. I thought extensively at the time about why this was the case. I couldn't think of anything I did wrong. I was friendly and polite. I made a point of trying to avoid stealing their thunder or encroaching on their research. I came to the conclusion that they viewed me as competition and that my only crime was showing up for work. How have I dealt with that in the following years?

    1. I live in the present. Those folks have absolutely nothing to do with my current position.
    2. I didn't overdo the self assessment. If there was something you could have done better, start doing that. If not, don't drive yourself crazy trying to find faults that don't exist. Those co-workers of mine were, to use the vernacular, vicious a--holes. Everyone else in the lab agreed. A neutral party's honest opinion can go a long way towards putting your mind at ease or pushing you to correct a negative behavior.
    3. When I think about the situation, I'm still angry, but then again, why shouldn't I be? Why should I be content with having been treated like garbage?

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    1. I agree about living in the present. Stack ranking forces some of this behavior, and the sharks will turn against one another if threatened.

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    2. I agree with points 1-3. I was once in a similar situation with a few coworkers, although I was well-liked by the rest of the group and the company as a whole, including senior management. Things came to a head and I transferred to another group within the same company. Several of my coworkers quit or transferred groups at the same time as me, for the same reason. It was a very dysfunctional environment, but sadly, not uncommon in its particular flavor of dysfunction.

      Time, and moving on to better things, have healed a lot of wounds for me, as does knowing that I have been well-respected professionally and personally at all positions before and after.

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  13. As someone who worked for an awful PI in grad school, I really enjoy vocally supporting Scott Walker or any other public figure who trashes academics.

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  14. I'm going to forget a NEW workplace hurt. I was just laid off from Dupont CR&D. I just heard that ALL of the CR&D managers were "saved". Two I know for sure remain in Science and Innovation (the new name for what used to be CR&D). All of the others were given positions in businesses. Not a single manager was let go in the headcount reduction earlier in 2015, either. Nine group managers, all of them saved when ca. 65 % of the PIs/AIs were laid off. Can't begin to describe how pissed off I am at these unethical, favorite-playing scumbags.

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    1. CJ - hope you don't mind the venting, I'll try not to do it again.

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    2. That's awful. You just found out today?

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    3. echoes - yes, today. Slight mistake in my post - three of the CR&D managers, not two, remain in S&I. Two continue as managers. The third - get this - was given a spot as a PI in S&I. All those PIs laid off, CR&D left with only 17 PIs remaining out of 130-140 a few weeks ago, AND THEY GAVE ONE OF THOSE PRECIOUS PI SLOTS TO A GODDAMN MANAGER. (Sorry CJ, I did it again).

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    4. Relax, you just got laid off. You're allowed, even encouraged, to vent here.

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    5. E-mail me, and I can try to help you: chemjobber@gmail.com

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    6. More data points to support my hypothesis: The further away you are from benchwork, whether it be a PI who writes grants all day in academia, or a lazy-ass "manager" at industry, the longer you last in scientific research.

      If you get a PhD, you really have to do everything to get out of doing benchwork as quickly as you can in your career....or else.

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    7. CJ - This is anonymous 5:41. I'm ok, really. I'm old enough and pissed enough that I was going to resign from Dupont this year anyway. The unethical and sleazy behavior on the part of management these last several years just became intolerable. This most recent act is just another example.

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    8. Sleazy? Please elaborate. Inquiring minds want to know....

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    9. I'm curious, too.

      And you don't necessarily have to go back to work? Once you get over being really furious, this may be an opportunity to be happier in the long-term...?

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    10. I'm sorry. Resign or retire?

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  15. To anonymous 5:41: The same thing happened in the Merck layoffs: managers and young people generally safe, scientists and older people at higher risk, old scientists totally f#@&ed.

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  16. NMH & echoes: Cronyism is sleazy, is it not? So it dishonesty and there are just too many examples of that so you will have to trust me. I can't and don't want to get into specifics on a blog.

    My plan was and still is to move into a new career, science-related but away from the bench. I'm almost there. If it wasn't for the layoff I would have eventually resigned for the new opportunity, but I suppose on paper it would have been a retirement with deferred pension. I'm short of 85 points, if I take the pension now it will be reduced. I need to wait several years now if I want to maximize it. If this new opportunity doesn't work I will be ok if I am very careful. If it does I will be golden - my remaining time on the Dupont books + severance package will keep me at full time pay a few months into 2017 so a new job in 2016 and I will be double income. That would make me very, very fortunate relative to MANY colleagues without my financial resources and company time (and working spouse) and a lot of them are stressed and in trouble. Even though I personally will turn out just fine, watching this unjustice unfold is simply infuriating. Especially since these same behaviors (cronyism, dishonesty, etc.) have helped destroy CR&D and Dupont - they had become ingrained into the company culture.

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    1. Cronyism is absolutely sleazy. I can understand that snowball effect, too, where the examples are so convoluted that the story would be too long and detailed if you had to start at the beginning (if you even knew where to start).

      I hope that new opportunity works out. I'm glad to hear it's part of your situation, but still hate that this happened to you and all your colleagues.

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    2. May I ask what the new career area is? Im trying to get away from the bench myself.

      Best wishes to you. I think the "furies" will pass. I hope my do.

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  17. I was a long-term WL/Pfizer employee who lost his job in the 2007 debacle. I eventually got over the anger/hurt with the help of other old Pfizer curmudgeons who were treated similarly. That, and this quote from Anne Lamott helped put my anger in perspective: “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

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