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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

Is It Toxic? I’m Drowning in Work I Wasn’t Hired to Do.

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Bailey Zelena; Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Welcome to “Is It Toxic?” our new advice column for all the most pressing questions you have about toxic work situations but didn’t know who to ask—until now. Here to help is Benish Shah, a startup operator who’s coached executives and managers on navigating toxic workplaces, negotiating exits, and architecting workplace policies to combat toxic cultures. She’s currently working on a book about creating anti-toxic workplaces. Have a question to submit? You can reach her at or @benishshah. And for more advice, visit our “Toxic Aware” hub.

Dear Benish,

I was hired to do brand marketing for a Web3 company. I’m very good at brand work and was excited to be a woman in this space at a company that cares about brand.

However, there’s no brand work. I’ve been thrust into doing growth work, which I don’t know anything about. I was told I’d be working on ad creative, events, and brand awareness. But I’m being asked to pull ad conversion metrics, come up with email growth techniques, and increase website conversion, which I’ve never done before. I’m not a “growth hacker.”

What’s worse is our COO has decided that I’m just not good at my job and my manager keeps saying that it’s on me to prove him wrong by finding resources and learning fast. But my manager isn’t even a marketer, he’s a biz dev specialist who is only managing me because they still haven’t hired a VP for marketing. No one seems to care that I’m drowning trying to do something I was not hired to do. They just keep saying I need to rise to the challenge.


Not a Growth Hacker, Miami


Dear Not a Growth Hacker,

I’m going to make a few assumptions based on what you described: first, that you work for a startup (based on being in Miami and Web3); second, that the company you work for doesn’t fully understand that marketing expertise varies by role. Which makes me wonder: Do you want to work for an organization like that?

Your note points to all the right ingredients for toxic workplace shenanigans: a bait-and-switch job description, a manager inexperienced in your area of expertise, unrealistic expectations to “rise to the occasion,” and an executive who’s missing what the real problem is.

In other words, I have no doubt your work environment is toxic. But you’re there, so let’s find a way to help you navigate it.

The big question here is whether you have an interest in diversifying your skill set into growth marketing. If you do, then it’s an unfortunate truth in startups that you’ll be thrown into the deep end and left to sink or swim. If you don’t want to do growth marketing, you can either get clarity on your role and request an additional hire or you can begin planning your exit. Whichever route you choose, you’ll have to move quickly because it sounds as if your manager and COO have made up their minds that you are the problem.

Let’s look a little more closely at these three options.

If you want to diversify your skill set into growth marketing:

There’s value in growing your marketing skill set, not just for this current role but for your career in general. Folks who can navigate across and in the intersection between brand and growth marketing have a unique blend of analytical and creative skills that’s in demand.

Early in my career, I taught myself growth hacking in a startup environment because I had to. There were no managers who had time to guide me—it was just me, the internet, and a voice in my head that said, “You need to know how to do this.” So I learned. It helped me get a strong handle on how data is collected and interpreted, and equipped me with the tools to show how marketing directly affected revenue. Years later, it still informs my decisions as an executive who’s managed go-to-market teams across various specializations.

If you have an education or training budget, you can find a business coach who has marketing expertise to guide you on this process. Otherwise, try reading this article on the skills needed for growth marketing and using Google to find the best and most relevant resources to learn more about the aspects that are applicable to your day-to-day requirements.

Adding growth marketing skills to your resume can be valuable to your career. But you have to want it.

If you want to get clarity on your role and request an additional hire:

Pull a copy of your initial job description and make a side-by-side comparison of what you were hired to do vs. what you’re being asked to do. Then set up a meeting with your manager to talk through the differences, focusing on how the gap shows an immediate need for an additional hire to focus on tactical growth marketing efforts. Present yourself as being excited to grow the team and explain how the company would benefit from having two people working on brand and growth together, whether you pitch this role as someone that reports into you or not.

The caveat here is that if the company is purely focused on growth marketing, you may be making the case to hire yourself out of a job. However, if you don’t want to do growth marketing when that’s what leadership wants out of you, there’ll be similar consequences regardless. At least the additional-hire route could buy you a few months to look for a new job. Which brings me to your third option.

If you want to begin planning your exit:

Experience tells me you have one to two months to exit on your own before the company decides to let you go.

When an employee starts hearing rumblings of “not being the right fit” or “not rising to the occasion,” there’s usually at least one person in management who’s made up their mind about you and is now campaigning to get others in leadership on their side. Often, targeted employees survive these campaigns only when they have another executive who is all in on their side. If you don’t have an executive—or a manager—who’s willing to go to bat for you, your time at the company is limited.

As difficult as this is to accept, the leadership team’s decision is not about your capabilities. It’s about their inexperience—like not knowing the difference between a brand marketer and a growth marketer—and about their unwillingness to accept that they set you up to fail. It’s not on you that you joined a company that said they wanted your skill set, but pulled the rug out from under you and asked for something else entirely once you walked in the door.

What is in your control right now is deciding the best path forward for you. It’s clear that the company is looking out for the company—and it’s imperative that you look out for you.