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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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I am having difficulty dealing with a negative work environment.

Resolved Question:

I am having difficulty dealing with a negative work environment. Although all the saff have the same education (we're lawyers), the principal attitude is that many of us can never be as good as our supervisors -- and I do mean never. I don't understand this because I understood good supervision to be to develop your staff and bring them up to your level (and it's virtually impossible to discern any real gap in intelligence or abilities between supervision and staff). However. the system is set up so that it requires some of us must be kept down, and apparently no matter what we do.
(A few years ago, over half of the staff was downrated as a prerequisite to the managers getting higher salaries). I realize the invalidity of this system and try to do my best and take pride in my work. (And I have tried various ways of speaking up against the system -- all to no avail. ) However, it is difficult to always be one of the ones assigned to the lesser status -- and apparently for no good reason than boosting the morale of the dominant supervisors (and their paychecks as mentioned above). Can you give me any insight in how to handle this situation better, including on the personal level of dealing with my own supervisor whose basic attitude in interacting with me seems unvaryingly of her superiority. Do the truly strong need to interact with others in such a way -- and attempt to hoard whatever bounty there is, including of skills and abilities?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue.

You are working in a pathological system. By this, I mean that the management has no understanding of what 'causes' human behavior and the firm is suffering because they literally 'don't know what they don't know'. What management should be doing in your case is evaluating both supervisors and their supervisees based on highly measurable performance criteria that includes amount and quality of productivity. Maybe bring in an external consultant to review performance independently and blindly if necessary. Rewarding people for performance and recognizing them regardless of their status will actually cause case productivity to increase and profits of the firm to grow.

If this is a relatively small, private firm and the principals have close personal relationships with many supervisors, and have fully bought in to this system, then you and other supervisees probably cannot dislodge or change the system (as it is too entrenched). Usually, on a company-wide crisis can disrupt it e.g., mass exodus of the unrecognized, high talent, underpaid folks who actually do most of the work; or exodus of people with intmate knowledge about critical, long term cases or who have info about legal and ethical violations at the company. What I generally recommend is that individuals in 'like circumstance' in this company consider launching into their own firm or business, or finding a different company to work for, cut back to part time and take on teaching positions at a local/regional law school as an adjunct etc. Entrenched problems can be to monstrous to change on one's own and trying to tackle them alone or as a "Don Quixote" will bring on more stress and personal, professional damage.

It is best to plan-fully and very privately hunt for other options with another firm, or start one's own business. This is easier for the truly underpaid, underappreciated talent at a firm because they have certainly nurtured lots of good contacts, clients etc., over the years who really 'love them' and might jump ship to give them business if they start their own company. So a big part of whether this suggestion might be successful on not is highly contingent upon how good you really are at what you do. Let me hear your thoughts and reactions to this
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
This is a government agency -- and we do have an evaluation system but it is highly subjective and premised on perfection, thus giving managers a lot of leeway to reward those they want to and keep down those they do not. I am more concerned at this point about keeping my peace of mind and self-pride in an environment where I am one of the designated "never-can-be-as-good-as" (though I am hard-pressed who this benefits other than in an unhealthy way). (It is also strange, considering I'm more of a lifetime learner than almost anyone I know). Please advise from the personal perspective from someone working in this environment and for practical reasons continuing to work there. Many thanks.
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
I'll give this last post of your's more thought and get back to you later today or tomorrow a.m. Let me know if this is o.k. with you.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
That's totally fine. Many thanks for your thoughtful consideration of this. I've been struggling with it for some time. Have a good evening.
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
You sound as though you believe you will stay in this agency, for the long term and won't be inclined to change jobs, no matter what. You understand what the implications of this situation are going forward. If you truly understand that your hard work and superior performance will never be appropriately recognized then you might want to decide if you want to push toward excelling so much, if you realize it makes not difference in your status or salary. Alternatively, you may possess enough work-pride that you conclude that no matter what happens to you personally in terms of recognition, your ethics and internal 'character' will drive you to keep performing. So here is one of the things that is causing you stress and actual health related problems. You haven't truly ACCEPTED the validity of one of these two facts about your job situation. That is, if you went to work each day accepting, reminding yourself that you have to find a way to simply work draw your paycheck, do the best you can, and not expect anything else, your job would be stressful. Now, here is the kicker---you may not want to accept this point-----the primary reason you are suffering stress, emotional distress, and health problems at this time is that in the back of your mind you keep hoping things might change; but holding out hope, looking for ways to overcome and 'right' a wrong system is still your quest. As long as you maintain such a quest, in the face of facts that will not change, you will be in conflict with the social structure of this job and will suffer stress, emotional difficulties and health problems. So I think you are at the point where you have a clear, vivid understanding of the facts of this situation, but haven't yet given up hope of trying to change it, work around it, overcome the injustices etc. You keep trying to do these things. I want to suggest that if you cannot change jobs the next step is to find a way to go to work each day reminding yourself that you cannot play Don Quixote and try to make things change or even HOPE they will change. Your job and the work situation simply 'is as it is' and you simply need to do the best job you can at your tasks and accept the fact that you won't get promoted, higher raises, etc., going forward. You are becoming sick because you are still willing to effort fully 'fight' the injustices of a really bad, unfair work structure and situation, or you constantly look for new ways of trying to fight or defeat it in your favor. I would suggest that it is this frustrating and hopeless fight that is actually making you ill, if we assume that you are fully intent on staying in this job long term. What do you think?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I think you are right -- it is extremely -- and I do I mean extremely -- unlikely that the situation will improve any time in the near future. I do aim to do my best work for my own self-respect and because I believe in the mission of the organization. However, as you say, I must relinquish any hope of fair validation, a rather sad thing, but there it is. I have tried various things to make it better -- nothing works with the rare exception of my efforts to be friendly, sympathetic and a support to my colleagues, which I will continue. The rest of my life, family, friends, lots of outside interests, is going well. I must wave my work expectations a sad farewell. At this point, my primary focus has to be on preserving my clarity and mental health. Many thanks.
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
I think you've 'got it', as reflected in your last post. I'm applauding your focus on the hard, sad problem of truly accepting this situation. What this will allow you to do, if you rehearse to yourself literally, the hopelessness of this work situation, is first, experience a growing sense of inner peace, and you'll start to shift your emotional attention to other things that really MATTER, since the management, the expectations of recognition etc.., don't matter, given the dysfunctional structure. So yes, I think you do need to 'wave good bye' to work expectations in terms of recognition or fair treatment. There are others outside of your work, maybe 'others' you haven't even met yet, that would 'kill' for an opportunity to have you show you care, and they would in turn, show appropriate appreciation and recognition.

I hope this is helpful. Please click on the green Accept button at the bottom of the screen. Thanks.
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience: Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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