Q: My morale is a two on a scale of zero to 10.
A year ago, a large national company decided to open a branch in Alaska and wanted me to become their branch manager. This wasn't a job I applied for; an executive recruiter found me and the company wooed me.
While it seemed like a great opportunity, I'd been with my now-former company for a decade and had no real reason to leave. I initially turned the offer down. Then, the company's top executives gave me a series of promises, and I decided this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I even foolishly took a pay cut, based on what I understood I'd make at the end of the year.
I soon learned that what I'd been promised wasn't in place, but because I'd committed, I rolled up my sleeves and put everything I had into making the situation a success. After six months, however, I met with my immediate manager and asked when I could expect to see those promises fulfilled. He said, "These things take time, but everything's coming together and it's going to be great."
Another five months passed. I asked again. My manager assured me everything was coming together and the future would be great. I called one of the top executives and reminded him that he'd promised me that certain things were already in place for my branch, not that they'd be there eventually and that it had been nearly a year.
He turned the tables on me, saying I was naïve, a mediocre manager and wasn't pushing myself or my employees hard enough. I've never in my life been called mediocre, and the only thing I knew to do was to work even harder. It's now been nearly a year and a half. I'm exhausted from working 70-hour work weeks and feel angry and stuck. Needless to say, the raise never materialized. I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel, but no longer have a good track record for landing a better job.
A: You're not stuck unless you decide to be. You left a secure position, where you'd performed successfully enough that a recruiter sought you out. If you've accurately reported what happened, you took a job based on promises made but not fulfilled. Your story reminds me of the "Wizard of Oz." When Dorothy, the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow find the Wizard, a booming voice tells them to come back another time. Then Dorothy's dog pulls the curtain aside and reveals wizard for who he is, a guy operating a bunch of controls behind a curtain, even as the wizard shouts, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"
You're someone who knows how to work and to commit. You've given this situation more than a year. You now need to commit to yourself and to work on getting a new job. The first essential step — regain your confidence.
Start by forgiving yourself for taking a risk — the opportunity presented you seemed legitimate, and you won't again make the mistake of believing empty promises. You need to dump your anger, as it can contaminate your job search. No prospective employer wants to hire someone bitter.
Next, ask yourself whether you'd hire an employee loyal enough to commit to one company for 10 years and hard-working enough to give 70 hours a week to a job. That's not what I'd call mediocre. Stop letting the label given you by a manager you no longer trust to seep into your brain.
Instead, realize you learned an important lesson. When you realize you've selected the wrong route, you have to step back and assess your choice rather than continue to march ahead. Further, you're not the first applicant wooed into a new job by a fake reality. Some even sue — and win.
When Aon Corp. interviewed former pro football player Phil McConkey, McConkey asked his prospective boss about rumors the company might be sold. The chief executive claimed the rumors were lies spread by competitors, even though he was already engaged in takeover negotiations. Seven months later, McConkey's boss walked away with a $23 million severance package, leaving McConkey with the choice of a non-managerial job or no job.
McConkey sued for fraud, stating he relied on the executive's assurance and wouldn't have taken the job had he known the truth. He won $2 million for emotional stress, $3 million in lost wages and $5 million in punitive damages, because he proved the executive misrepresented relevant facts.
While your situation isn't clear-cut like McConkey's, it's clear you're not stuck, unless you let a lack of confidence and anger stop you from moving on.