Between the national embarrassment that was the presidential election and a friend’s severe hospitalization, the tail-end of 2016 was a very rough ride. Moving into 2017, I told myself I would be kinder to my personal health – mentally and emotionally. I felt optimistic, all things considered; after all, how could any year top this one?
2017 started out on only somewhat shaky ground. My career, at least, acted as my strong foundation. I enjoyed my job and the people I worked with. I even looked forward to my first international trip “alone” to Germany, as I would be attending with three other colleagues but more or less independent. It was a fun trip and, in my eyes, very productive; I spoke with several distributors of varying international backgrounds, met the company founder and my international contacts, chatted with my colleagues about opinions on where the company should move forward… and upon my return home, I was ready to put those ideas into action!
Then our CEO was let go, quite suddenly and without any real explanation. We – my manager and I – knew who would be replacing him. It was an uneasy acceptance, though. My manager and this replacement, who had previously been on the same level as him, had very differing opinions and had their disagreements. My manager, J, was certain he would be let go as soon as the CEO was officially moved into that position.
That didn’t happen until October, however. According to J, this was because he was negotiating with our headquarters for a ‘golden parachute’ type situation – able to cut ties with our company at any time with virtually no consequences. I wasn’t surprised.
Until then, however, J and the marketing department were set to report to R, the general manager’s husband. We thought this was the best-case scenario because the two of them were friends. R was a generally cool guy, however he had a tendency to micromanage and distinct insistence to be let in on every little thing we planned. It was annoying, but not really damaging to how the team worked — just an extra step added to our already-busy schedules and workloads.
So we went on, and eventually I had opportunities proposed to me regarding additional projects: I was invited to help manage tradeshow coordination for three major tradeshows — no more than 10 hours a week of work, if that — and to help with the website’s re-rebuilding, as it was horribly out of date and in desperate need of some direction. Wanting to help make the company better and more efficient, I happily took these side projects on. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the death knell for my career at this company.
It was late July when we had a semi-annual sales meeting. I had attended last year so I knew what it was about, and according to my manager it was optional. Since I was knee-deep in three jobs, I decided not to attend Day 1 until our team’s afternoon presentation. About thirty minutes before that presentation, R messaged me on Skype and asked why I wasn’t there. I explained. He followed up with questions like, do you know what is being discussed, do you know what x is, do you know why y is, and I started feeling cornered and panicky. I finally informed him that I was being stressed out because I had three hats I was wearing at once, so I figured it would be better for me skip out.
And if it wasn’t optional, I wish that would’ve been made clear to me. I feel like I’m in trouble and all I want to do is get my work done on time. I trust my team who is attending will fill me in on what I missed.
He told me to stay put and that he would talk to me in a few, but I explained I had to go in there for a presentation. He agreed but added, I want to know who is making you feel like you are in trouble.
I didn’t understand that statement. Him! He was the one! And having that meeting loom over my head made me sick to my stomach for the rest of the day. We had a break after our presentation so I went back to my desk timidly and waited for him to talk with me. He did not. We went back into the room, finished up, and had made dinner arrangements as a company so I would be sticking around for that. I waited for him to come by then, but he did not.
So I went to the dinner, socialized how I could despite feeling very stressed out and sat beside people I didn’t know much about, and went home. The next day, J chatted with me and warned me that R thought I was overstressed. I vented to him about the situation and he suggested it was merely a miscommunication, and that I go to lunch with R that Friday to straighten things out.
Again, this should-have-worked-well plan backfired intensely. We went and got lunch and R started by describing his military background, his plans for the company, for the website, and more. This was all very informative and I was OK about everything. He then went on to say that a guy I worked with previously overseas, one who was a temporary intern, would be hired on full time to take over the Global Marketing position’s day-to-day tasks, such as social post scheduling, and being the main contact for the international team in Europe. I would train him, he explained, but he would not replace me. I agreed that this would be a nice idea, but the reason for this was so that I could take on more of the website and tradeshow coordination.
That didn’t feel so great, but for now I set it aside. When he inquired about my stress levels, he mentioned a couple of times that if I wasn’t happy at this company, I was free to leave. That made me panic because it felt like I was on the chopping block. I went on to provide him very, very private details of what I went through the past few years, why I acted the way I did due to my social anxiety and why working from home once a week on Fridays was so healing for me –
And that’s where he interrupted me. He went on to say that I couldn’t do that anymore. That my mental illness would have to be reported to Tiffiny immediately, but that he couldn’t show favoritism by allowing me special privileges because of it. He told me he wanted me to try coming to work on Friday, socialize more, to try and “work on” my social anxiety. Desperate and immediately afraid of losing my day that I knew I needed, I insisted that coming to work on Fridays wouldn’t accomplish anything. That this was a mental illness I had to cope with for the rest of my life, that there was no “fixing” it. He was dismissive and told me to just “try” and that I should go and speak with more people in the office. And if I had to go home mid-way on Fridays because I felt overwhelmed, I could.
He was trying to help, I understand that, but that was the worst way to do so. We returned to the office. My manager J saw how shaken up I was by the ordeal and went to go speak to him – to defend me – and sent me home immediately.
My best friend had to meet me halfway, because I was suddenly so full of self-loathing (why had I mentioned what my work from home day was?! Why had I told him all of those personal things?!) and frustration and fear that I had to call my therapist to keep from throwing myself in the highway.
The next two weeks were hell. I made the mistake of taking one more day to work from home the following Friday, as I misunderstood J’s comment of “everything is fine now, don’t worry about it” as permission to continue doing what I was used to. The result of that was a very angry R calling my cell phone, followed by an angry email to our HR lady about me and J undermining his authority on the subject.
I was afraid of him whenever he came around, but I was working on the website he oversaw. J couldn’t be a buffer for me for that. Even to this day, his presence – as nice a guy as he can be – unnerves me. I hate it. I hate being around him. But I soldiered on and pretended to be okay with everything, if only to survive.
Regardless, that was the day I started aggressively applying for new positions. I felt like I was in danger. I felt sick every morning before I woke up to go to work.
A few weeks afterward, an opportunity popped up on LinkedIn that was essentially my dream job – a social community position at a video game company in Seattle. I was so stoked, so certain I would get it, especially after I made it down to the final two! Unfortunately, I did not get it, and the rejection crushed my spirit. I persisted in applying to places, but I was severely depressed. At my best friend’s recommendation, I asked my therapist – a new one, a better one I started seeing immediately after that conversation with R – on the steps necessary to be able to start on medication.
I was nervous about it at first, but 10mg of Lexapro every day since November 1st has helped me in a lot of ways. Increased energy, decreased anxiety (not completely, but enough) helped me push through to the end of the year. I was okay. Just okay. But I was able to maneuver my position so that I could get an updated role change – from Global Marketing Manager to Marketing Event Manager/Website Administrator. This was NOT the title I wanted, of course, but seeing as how they had all but insisted I give the majority of my few global marketing tasks to the new guy, it was the only way I felt I would keep my job long enough to find something better.
Things went on. Frustrations came and went, particularly with the CEO and his blatant disrespect for our department – especially my manager. He knew, and had even disclosed to the team on a few occasions, that he would be let go soon. Especially after the CEO title was finalized and the marketing department moved to report to him directly, rather than R. His estimate was sometime in January. Sadly, it came much sooner than expected.
It was Thursday morning on December 14th. J and I were supposed to have a conversation with the international team, as we did every month, but Skype wasn’t working for him so he was going into the office to try and jump on before the meeting ending. I was working from home one day a week again because the CEO didn’t care about socializing so long as my performance was perfect, which it was (and always had been) and today was that day in particular. It worked out well since being in different time zones meant an earlier 8AM meeting was necessary.
The Skype meeting had just concluded and I was writing notes on next steps when I received an IM on Facebook from J.
I’m about to be let go. I have a meeting with the CEO and the HR manager in 5 minutes.
Feeling my stomach sink, I quickly replied: omfg. If you need to vent or talk afterward, I’m home, we can go to lunch.
I didn’t get a response. About half an hour later, though, I received a phone call from an unknown number. Thinking it might have been a response from an interview I had gone to a week ago, I picked up excitedly.
“Hello, Alanna?” Instead it was the heavily-accented, smarmy voice of our CEO in a tone that he must have thought was friendly and light-hearted. “I have the rest of the Marketing Team with me. Hold on, let me get our graphic designer on the other line.”
Our main graphic designer worked from home on Thursdays, too. Quickly changing gears, I chirped a cheery and clueless-sounding “sure” and waited for everything to settle. In the meantime, I fired off an Are you all right? CEO just called me. On a conference call with the rest of the team. No response.
After a few moments, the CEO confirmed we were all able to hear him before launching into the news I already knew.
“I eliminated the position of VP of Marketing today,” He began. “I just spoke with J and his last day is tomorrow. He took it very well.”
Yeah. Because he’s a professional, I thought.
“Now this wasn’t anything personal.”
Nobody said it was. But seeing as how you let him go 10 days before Christmas…
“I tried for the past three months to think of a way to keep the position. But where we are right now, we’re a small company. We don’t need that sort of position. We can’t afford to keep it.”
Because your sales team can’t sell our products for some reason.
“So for the time being, all of you are going to report to me. So I’m going to need all of you to step it up.”
Despite the fact that we’re already spread-thin and have been stepping it up since our first days here.
“Now down the line, I may hire a Marketing Manager just to manage all of you. But for now, you’ll just report to me.”
So it isn’t a matter of not having a position for him. You’re just going to hire one of your own Yes Men. Which was what he had done with the Direct Sales team, clearly the least-productive team since their hiring and yet I was sure there was no plans to get rid of them.
He went on to ask if we had any additional questions, which most of us did not. He then tacked on mid-way through the conversation that we would be extending a full-time position to our junior graphic designer, whose contract was set to end after January. It was highly inappropriate and awkward for her, and we all apologized to her the next day regarding that fact. The conversation ended and we all hanged up, and I sat there at my desk contemplating my next move.
I was genuinely terrified to go into work the next day. The thought of reporting directly to the CEO, knowing how dismissive he was of our contributions in the past, made my anxiety spike up again to a dangerous level. I didn’t need to be extra scrutinized or hung out to dry if something didn’t go wrong. I didn’t need more of that put on my shoulders. I wanted to cry.
I went and chatted with my roommate on the matter, and she suggested I send a polite follow-up email to the position I had interviewed for exactly a week ago. I was hesitant, but impatience got the better of me and I did so. Thirty minutes later, I received an email – and I squealed.
That sort of subject line did not come with a rejection letter. I read the email over twice before running across the apartment and bursting into my roomie’s room. “I got it! I got the job!”
I was already midway through a text to my mother, father, and brother to tell them of the news. Then I immediately followed up with an IM to my (now ex) manager. He was really happy for me, and even moreso relieved that I wouldn’t have to put up with the nightmare. For the rest of the day, I didn’t do any work. I just flitted around, heart pounding, relief washing over me that was almost like a high. Tomorrow I would put in my two weeks, but I had already scheduled a holiday from the 22nd to the 29th so really, my last day would be next Thursday. Five days. Just five days of this hell and I would be free!
It was sometime in the afternoon that J messaged me again: I was just thinking, wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t tell them you had another opportunity?
Immediately I responded: I WAS THINKING ABOUT THAT, TOO!
The fact that he encouraged it helped me make my decision. That and running it by my roomie, too. With her logical, third-party approval, I started thinking about what to say. Chanting it in my head.
The next morning, I walked into my HR Manager’s office and sat down after closing the door. She was equally distraught about how everything went down, and I felt bad laying another bit of bad news atop the pile.
“So… this company has had its problems in the past,” I began, hands squeezed tight in my lap. “But yesterday, the way my manager was let go was kind of the last straw. So I’m putting in my two weeks today, because I know I can find better opportunities in less stressful environments.”
The look on her face was one of grim acceptance. She nodded slowly. “I understand. And no, I agree. Yesterday was a shit show and not an expression of the culture I built over the past two years. I’m sorry it came to this.”
She asked me to tell my team first. Then to send her an email, and she would share it with leadership. I did so. My team was very stressed out by the news, but ultimately encouraged and accepted my decision. I helped J finish packing up his office and he drove me home.
I didn’t look at my work email until midway Saturday, as I was with my roomie helping her in and out of outfits at a photo shoot. When I did, however, I noticed an email from the CEO that made my blood boil.
I was informed about your decision and while I respect it, I would like for you to click the pause button and have a chat together on Monday morning. Sometimes we overreact emotionally to events. It is understandable. Sometimes that reaction comes from a certain conditioning on how we are used to or were advised to see things. So, that emotional reaction can prevent us from seeing the bigger picture. I like your work, I see potential for growth and would like for you to be open and see if we can paint that bigger picture together.
He thought that I was making a stupid decision based on what happened to my friend. He thought I had been somehow brainwashed by J’s opinions and was being a petulant child. I had never been so damned insulted in my life and did not respond. Instead, I forwarded it on to the HR Manager and added this:
I received this email from the CEO. I am going to let him say his piece and decline politely. However, I would like for you to note the tone of this email and mark it as a strong example. My decision was not made based on an overemotional reaction. Nor was it influenced by J’s lay off, nor his words or opinions.
I did take his commentary into account, however I am an independently-thinking adult who bases her important life choices like this on my own, and out of personal experience. I have witnessed more than one occasion of disrespectful actions from more than just the CEO, more than just certain upper-level employees.
I am not a child and this email is speaking down to me as though I am. It has only solidified my resolution to leave ten-fold. Please make it very clear to the others that I do not want to be bothered, bargained with, or convinced to stay. I am a professional. I can only hope they are, too.
I ended it by requesting she sit in on the meeting with me. I didn’t need her there, really, but I wanted a witness to the conversation. If he attempted to trash my reputation by saying I was rude or irrational, she could be there to say I was not. My mantra for this morning was to kill with kindness and I did.
We met in his office at 9:30 and I sat down comfortably on the couch across from his desk (he didn’t have chairs in there for whatever reason) beside the HR Manager. He smiled a big and friendly, “What’s up?” and I laughed and shrugged.
“Well, I read your email and I wanted to learn more about what you meant by that ‘bigger picture’ and what you see for me.” I knew all I had to do was get him talking and the meeting would go on as long as possible. I wanted him to offer all of his opinions and thoughts on the matter and then be shut down, just like he had done to others in the past. Like I had witnessed him do in the past.
His pitch was that I was in an amazing position for someone of my age. The company was just about to hit its stride and finally be profitable in 2020 (ha!) and start to change the industry. Someone of my position in a small company that was about to blow up like that would reap the benefits of its success in the end.
He also reiterated that he strongly respected my relationship with J and understood why I would be upset at his being let go, but that it was definitely not a personal decision and he certainly did NOT feel good about what happened just a few days before Christmas. In fact, he admitted he probably should have let him go three months ago (in other words, as soon as he was given the position of CEO) but he definitely tried to keep him on.
This, of course, contradicted the information J had already passed onto me. That the CEO had threatened him with ‘probation’ over the next couple of quarters and the only reason he kept him on was because our marketing plan impressed him. But he didn’t know I knew. Stupid mistake.
When he was finished, I acknowledged I was familiar with the proposed future of the company (he had been saying it for the past year). I also reassured him that I had definitely not made such an important life choice based on one solitary event related to a friend.
“This is something I have been thinking about for a while,” I explained calmly, tone honest. “Primarily because of my concern regarding this department’s ability to contribute to the company’s success. For example, months ago, our graphic designer was trying to explain her thoughts regarding the design of our tradeshow booth. You insisted you knew better because you have 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, which I know you do.”
You like to remind us of it constantly.
“But as someone trained in design and with experience in that regard, I thought her word should hold more weight. More recently, my colleague informed me that when J sent out an email to leadership regarding our success in raising in SEO ranks due to her efforts, you immediately responded saying that it was primarily due to our PR firm’s efforts instead.”
In other words, there were two major examples where you belittled our department’s efforts. And those came from my teammates, not J himself. Take that.
I continued, “In addition to that, according to my colleague who spoke to our engineers from HQ at the previous tradeshow, our department has a terrible reputation. This was way before either of us were at this company, and I recall even in the past you asking why we would be held accountable for the sins of our predecessors. But the fact that we are still mistrusted even over three years since the previous marketing department’s employees have all left is pretty disheartening. It feels like we’re trapped.”
He went on to thank me for bringing these details up, and moved to ‘clarify’ what happened in each situation. He essentially said he resolved the issue with the Graphic Designer after she came to speak with him in the office, and that they did reach an agreement. Regarding the SEO issue, he said that we had done blogs in the past and they hadn’t performed well then. So what was the difference now? (The difference was that blogs this time around were structured for SEO Keywords. That was the answer. I didn’t care to correct him, though.) He insisted that J only knew about blogging and therefore his announcement of our success was misleading misinformation, which the CEO saw fit to correct.
This, as I predicted, did not address the real issue of being a rude asshole to our team. I smiled and nodded and let it slide. What was the point in arguing, after all? He also denied ever hearing anything negative about our marketing team from headquarters. That could have been accurate, by my colleague in particular was so damned adamant about it the past few weeks (which I didn’t appreciate; she kept telling us we didn’t deserve raises and everyone essentially thought we were liars. Talk about a morale boost!), I tended to take that with a grain of salt, too.
He asked again if he had clarified things for me, as though showing me the light would reverse my decision. I smiled again and nodded.
“Yes, you did, thank you. However there are other elements to my decision as well. In particular, the fact that my Global Marketing duties were essentially taken from me and given to another. Remember I was originally told tradeshow coordination would be ten hours a week, and now it’s taken up half my time. That wasn’t what I was hired for, and I feel like I might as well not even be part of the Marketing team anymore. It’s kind of not great for my career, either. It feels as though I wasted six months.”
He went on to insist I hadn’t lost my position, and that eventually social community managers across the world would need to report to us because “the other countries look to America for guidance.” This was only half-true. Other countries did look to us for guidance, but not willingly. It was more of a frustrated they’re not doing well and yet they get all of Taiwan’s support because the founder’s daughter owns the branch! from what I had gathered over the past two years working there. It was a sentiment I sympathized, especially since we couldn’t seem to get anything done over here.
But I digress. I acknowledged that R had already spoke of this idea to me, however there wasn’t a date on when this plan would be executed, which worried me. Again, most of my duties for the past six months revolved around the website and tradeshow coordination.
The CEO looked like he had me there and gave another of his ‘charming’ European smiles.
“Alanna, we have a marketing budget of 1.2 million dollars. 750,000 of that is tradeshows,” he explained, as if I did not already know this. One of the pain points of the past two months was the fact that most of our budget that should have gone towards content marketing, photography, videography, swag, media advertisements, the PR company, and so much more. Instead it was going to tradeshows. J had had to fight for an increase from 900,000 to 1.2 million because we wouldn’t have been able to do anything! Still, he continued on as though reminding me, “You are in charge of most of our Marketing budget, our events that are outward facing to our customers. You work with 750,000 dollars of Marketing money! I think I’ve said enough.”
Motherfucker, all I do is hold meetings and fill out forms. I was so irritated behind that plastic smile. He had no idea what I did. Absolutely none.
It was at this point the HR Manager broke in, trying to keep us on the right track.
“I believe what she wants to know is that her career goals want to align more towards global marketing, which is what she was doing before. Do we have plans in the future to provide her with more opportunities for that?”
The CEO looked confused for a moment before agreeing, but not making any solid promises or details. In fact, the conversation seemed to start going in circles again, so at the next pause I cleared my throat and crossed one leg over the other. “Did I help clarify things for you?” He asked now.
“You did, thank you,” I nodded again, smiled again with a honeyed tone. “But I am going to stick with my decision and seek opportunities elsewhere.”
There was a pause. A bit impatient and with a visible twitch, he checked his watch.
“Tell you what, Alanna. It is now 10 o’clock. I’ll give you until noon to change your mind.”
I almost laughed. It would’ve been a bark of a laugh. An are you fucking kidding me? Laugh. Instead I chuckled and nodded. “All right, thank you.”
Then I returned to my desk, biting my lips to keep the smirk off of them. I proceeded to IM my best friend, J, and a few other online friends to report on the situation. I continued to work on various last-minute wrap-up things until the CEO approached me with an awkward chuckle at 11:58PM.
“Alanna. It’s almost noon.”
I laughed then, but reigned it back in to keep from being an outright salty guffaw. “Ah, yes. Yes, I know.”
As if someone with anxiety doesn’t know what time it is at all times.
He then hummed and nodded. “—But I clarified everything for you, right?”
“Yes, yes you did. Thank you.” This was getting irritating now. Finally, though, he left me alone.
It is my second-last day of work at this particular company and, aside from a handful of well-wishers who are happy for me, I’ve been more or less ignored. It’s kind of peaceful in a way. Watching others go into meetings with the marketing team’s remains and attempt to lead them in strategizing despite having no experience in our world is highly amusing.
I am trying not to be too smug. I don’t want karma to bite me in the behind. But my bestie has recommended I walk the fine line of what she calls “righteous anger.” After all, I was treated poorly and was given the chance this time to take a stand and have an impact on things as I leave. It wasn’t like my previous jobs, where accusations of sexism the marketing team went unacknowledged by the HR team.
This was a small company where I left my mark and everyone knew of my contributions and how important and strong an asset I am. And it was very clear by the timing of my two weeks what was the final straw. You just can’t get away with treating people like garbage. One day or another, it’ll catch up to you.