The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Download Our App 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol

G.R.E.A.T. Expectations

"At First I Had High Hopes for This New Job, but Now I'm Wondering Where It All Went Wrong"

September/October 2003

G.R.E.A.T. Expectations

Last week I was laid off from my minimum-wage job. I had been there six months and I won't miss it, but I feel depressed and want my next job to be better. I am HIV-positive 52-year-old woman, and I've had my share of problems with drugs in the past. I landed this past employment with the help of a mental health and substance abuse agency, so my employees knew I was coming to them with some mental health issues and I thought they would be more sensitive to my situation since they had an agreement with my agency.

But I was wrong. I feel they never gave me a chance to prove myself. From day one, things just didn't go smoothly. Sometimes I was rude to clients, but a lot of them were really difficult to deal with. And although I requested weekly supervision, I never met with any of my supervisors unless there was a complaint about my performance. I also never received any pay raises or promotions. My social life at work was nil -- whenever there was a party after work or a group lunch, I was never even invited. In fact, if I came upon a group chatting, they would all get quiet or would scatter when I came into view. One time, when I was really fed up, I yelled at some of my co-workers. Well, that did it, and soon after that I was laid off. On my last day no one said good-bye, and there was no cake, no good luck card and no gift -- just a packing box left at my cubicle by the building's cleaning staff.

At first, I had high hopes for this new job, but now I'm wondering where it all went wrong. Okay, looking back I can see that I did have a bad attitude sometimes, but the work I had to do was totally unrewarding. The only good thing about this job was the medical coverage and the daily lunch break. How can I keep this from happening again?


A Response to This Composite Case Study

Nothing can seem more draining emotionally and physically then submitting to a job that you dread for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Over time, your sense that others disliked you and that your work was unrewarding may have fed your negative outlook about this job and the clients you served. At this point, if you had not faced a lay-off, you should have resigned for your emotional health. Additionally, you were doing a disservice to the company you worked for and the clients they served. The bottom line was that you and this employment position just didn't gel; this was not a good fit between the person and the organization.

Regardless, of the reasons why you were laid off, I would consider it a positive development; you needed to leave this job, if not on your own, then by being forced out! Try to think of this past situation as a learning tool for you to search out a better job position, one that will be a benefit for you and for your future employers. A good working relationship should ideally be a "win-win" situation where you are valued and you value your employers. So let's focus in on what you have stated, and then I'll give you some suggestions in your search for future employment.

First off, being represented by a mental health and substance abuse agency may taint your future employers' first impression of you. If possible in the future, you may want to distance your connection with this agency. Prejudice is wrong. and I do not excuse your employer's behaviors, if in fact they had pre-judged you on your background. However, this may be one possible reason that you never felt that you were being given a real chance to prove yourself. Additionally, they may have a working relationship with your agency and hire their applicants based on a prior agreement. Both of these possibilities would make any new job more difficult, since your actual skills may not have even mattered -- you may have been viewed as just filling a slot or even someone just to be tolerated. You will never know the whole story of how you were represented or why your employers wished to hire you. But keep in mind that being hired in the context of mental health or substance abuse problems could have a negative effect on your interactions with your employers.

You have stated that you strongly disliked most aspects of this job, so I find it surprising that you lasted as long as you did. With your negative attitude, how could it be a positive experience for you and everyone else involved? One does have to work at being well liked, and I do wonder what you brought to the work place, considering your own negativity. You must take some kind of accountability for your own behavior. After all, rude behavior to the clients who you are there to serve is unacceptable. Having emotional issues coupled with a substance abuse does not give you the freedom to be rude or abusive to other people.

Regardless of whether they are clients or fellow employers, everyone deserves to be treated with courtesy and respect. People coming to work must attempt to leave their personal problems at home and present themselves with good social skills. If your supervisors pointed your behavior out to you as unacceptable and you then continued to treat consumers rudely, it is no wonder that you were finally laid off. There are consequences for such behavior. The idea that you could expected pay raises and promotions borders on the delusional when you have admitted that you acted in this unacceptable manner. Please attempt in the future to be accountable for your actions. If you are going to accept a position working with the public in the future, then you must retain a level of professionalism.

If you chose to stay with this agency or to seek employment on your own, you should consider getting as much information on your position as possible before accepting it. I would attempt to ask all questions pertaining to your employment on the first phone call or at the first interview with a potential employer. Many supervisors would welcome the opportunity to answer your questions on the phone before setting up a formal interview -- it saves a lot of time and energy for both parties. If you decided to go with a face-to-face interview, ask more questions to clarify if this would be a good person-organization fit.

Below is a list of reminders of what to look for in a good employment placement. Think of the list as G.R.E.A.T. It will help you to remember all the important issues you need answers for during your interview.

G = Growth! What can you expect to learn and gain in this current position? Psychologically speaking, employees want to feel that they are making progress in their current position. No one wants to feel trapped and stagnant. Request as much information as possible during your interview on the possible areas of growth in your future employment. Ask for examples where other employees have gained growth and promotion. Job enrichment can be considered a form of employment compensation.

Ask during your interview about job enrichment and what they offer their employees. What are the educational elements of your company? Will they help pay for college classes? Do they ever send you off for additional training? Do they recognize and advance employees based on college degrees, graduate degrees or certain licenses? Find out about all aspects of employment growth! Everyone needs to continue to feel a sense that they are growing and developing at their place of employment. When one feels trapped and stuck, motivation lessens.

R = Recognition & Respect! Offering praise and making employees feel valued is a very importance aspect of any employment situation. Recognition involves the acknowledgement of staff's efforts, accomplishments or contributions. Everyone needs to know verbally and/or in writing that he or she is appreciated. Request information on how often performance evaluations are done. Request a tour of the office and company after your job interview is concluded. While taking this tour, attempt to get a feel for how the present staff interact and relate to one another. Ask if there are awards or special bonuses for staff when they make special efforts.

E = Education! For any employment to be satisfying, there must be an element of education that is challenging or motivating. Are there any possible areas that need new programs, or coordination of new staff trainings in public speaking, or educational outreach in the community? Ask if there are any specialized areas that need additional work where someone like you can learn more and gain more experience. Let your supervisor know that you are looking to learn as much as you can about your new employment. Once hired, you must also push yourself to be educated and to seek out possible ways to educate and learn more about your field of interest.

A = Advancement and Achievement! Achievement provides a real sense of accomplishment in a job or activity. What kind of personal and professional goals are you seeking to attain? How can you reach these goals at your place of work? Set short- and long-term goals with your supervisor and give yourself a realistic time frame to reach them. Request information on how often staff are promoted and how achievement is acknowledged. Ask about the turn-over rate of employees, and how long the average employees remain at their position. Find out how long the agency, company or program has been in operation.

T = Total Compensation! Don't be afraid to ask what you will receive as your "total compensation" package, both short term and long term. What are the medical benefits? Dental? Vision? Is there a retirement fund? Stock options? Vacations days and personal days? Sick days, medical leave, and disability insurance? And of course: what is your salary? Is that salary negotiable? Are their yearly raises and cost-of-living allowances? Are there performance bonuses? Overtime pay?

In conclusion, attempt to work on your social skills and turn your negative outlook into positive thoughts. People will be attracted to your bright outlook and this may help in improving your social life at your new place of employment. When interviewing for a new job, keep upbeat and think G.R.E.A.T.! Remember what each letter stands for and this will help you remember to ask all the questions you need to know about what you can expect in job satisfaction. Seek out responsibilities and accountability in your new place of employment. Good Luck!

J. Buzz von OrnsteinerJ. Buzz von Ornsteiner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and behavioral consultant in New York City and writes the "Psychologically Speaking" column.

This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
See Also
More on HIV and Working