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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

What to Do When Your Job Really Screws You Over (and Dramatically Quitting Isn't an Option)

Let’s say you had this job that you liked a lot. Things were going swimmingly for the most part: You were overseeing a small team, and the work was stimulating but not overly stressful or anything. And then one day, some higher-ups decide that they want to take the most valuable person on your team and transfer him to another department. You put on your best game face, express enthusiasm over the decision, ask what the time line is for transitioning the employee, and prepare for a couple of tough weeks as you attempt to work with him on wrapping up projects, all while going through the process of finding his replacement.

It’s not the best-case scenario, but you’re genuinely excited for Tyler’s move. The real blow comes the next day when you learn that Tyler is leaving you the following week, less than five days after you’ve been dealt the news. The three weeks you were initially told he would be phased out of your team and transitioned to the other has suddenly been reduced by less than a third.

You’re shocked—but more than that, you’re pissed off. You were beyond gracious when told about the move, even though it means at least double the amount of work for you and the loss of a really fantastic person. Nonetheless, you took it in stride, offering not just consent (what choice did you have?) but delight over the new opportunity for Tyler, a person you’d trained and helped grow for over a year. The email from his new manager, CCing one of the CEOs, thanking you for agreeing to let him move ASAP is unprofessional, unethical, and dripping with manipulation.

But, what can you do? You’ve got a dog in this fight, there’s no doubt about that, but if you don’t want to put your job on the line, you’re probably going to have to suck it up and face the fact that you just got totally screwed.

This hypothetical, based-on-a-true-story tale is not uncommon. A lot of organizations make decisions solely from the top down, and unless you’re on the top rung, if something doesn’t go your way, you can sit down and shut up, or you can speak up and express unhappiness and disappointment at being kept in the dark. The latter could mean losing your job.

LIVE With Kelly and Michael’s, Kelly Ripa, been in the news recently for her handling of co-host’s Michael Strahan’s sudden departure. After abruptly learning of Strahan’s leaving the show for a spot on Good Morning America, Ripa reportedly decided to take a couple of unplanned days off while she processed the news. The press has been enjoying a field day ever since, providing colorful commentary on Ripa’s (totally reasonable) reaction to an unfortunate work situation. While she doesn’t stand at risk of losing her job, in spite of the abrupt mini-vacation, there’s no denying that she got really screwed here. Because she’s a human being with real feelings, it’s only natural—and expected—that she’d react with disappointment at the news of Strahan’s allegedly blindsiding her. I think she’s entitled to be dumbfounded, angry, and in need of an immediate break from the “office.”

Having a stressful day at work is one thing; getting backstabbed or even just left out of a conversation that probably should’ve involved you is just bad business. Ripa got dealt a crappy hand, and when you’re dealt a crappy hand at the office—whatever that may mean for you—you may feel an overwhelming need for space, which, by the way, is 100% normal. Unlike Ripa, however, you may not be in a position to get the heck out of dodge to deal.

Not having the luxury of leaving town when work screws you over doesn’t mean you’re stuck putting on a happy face at your desk. You need a breather, and you’ve got to figure out how to take one. It might mean walking away from your computer, stepping outside and going for a walk around the block several times. It might mean cutting out early one afternoon and emphatically resuming work the next day. Maybe there’s a trusted colleague you can confide in. Or a work wife or husband to vent to. Depending on your situation, you may or may not be able to take your grievances to HR or to someone else in a position of authority.

The reality, unfortunately, is that more often than not, your best recourse is going to be take a long, deep cleansing breath, smile and continue to do your job and do it well. That’s what Ripa did when she returned to LIVE on Tuesday. But, in the meantime, if you’re in a position to put your work away a few hours early or take a personal day (that doctor’s office waiting room is something else, isn’t it?), go ahead and do it. Pour yourself a glass of wine, pop open a beer, put your feet up and recognize that you did nothing wrong; you were wronged. The person who first said life isn’t fair obviously knew what he was talking about.

If, however, after a few weeks you’re still feeling lousy about what happened and struggling to feel like anyone even gives a hoot about you, it may be time to get on the job-search horse. No one deserves to feel disrespected, and there are plenty of companies that are worthy of you.

Photo of Kelly Ripa courtesy of Helga Esteb/Shutterstock.