A good job can be hard to find. Even innovative companies with good wages and policies can turn your life upside down without notice. I've learned, through my own mistakes and sometimes through the actions of others, that traditional employment isn't for me. I'm not against it. I've worked for some wonderful companies and learned some great lessons from a few inspiring individuals. Just the same, I said goodbye to the traditional rat race 15 years ago. Here are a few of the things I definitely do not miss.
1: The daily grind
Sundays can be the worst day of the week, falling under the pall of I have to go back to that place tomorrow. Once things get this bad, regardless of who's at fault, there's no remedy. When this happened to me, I did what most people do: I went job hunting.
2: The commute
I shouldn't drive first thing in the morning. I'm just not alert enough to fend off the chick who's applying makeup while trying to cut me off, the guy behind me who's on his cellphone and riding my as... bumper, and the old lady in front who's afraid to turn left. Oh crap! I just spilt my Starbucks all over myself! The only thing worse than morning rush hour is afternoon traffic. You get it coming and going.
3: The water cooler
Even good companies with generous employee benefits and innovative personnel policies have a gossip mill. If you're seen conversing with known gossips, you get a reputation as a troublemaker, even if you don't deserve it. What's worse is being overheard trying to convince the real gossips that they're mistaken. Generally, the eavesdropper runs off to tattle before hearing your counterattack.
4: The surprises
Good news folks! We're moving the company! The climate and standard of living won't change a bit! Liars. Or how about We're transferring you to the downtown office; they really need your expertise right now. That's code for, the boss's girlfri... assistant hates your guts because you improved the work order system that appeared to keep her busy for hours (so she didn't have to do anything else). My favorite was We need you to take on this project. No one else can handle it. That's Carnegie BS for everyone with seniority has already said no.
Lest you accuse me of not being a team player, that's not true. I'm just not keen on turning my life upside down without sound business reasons. Catering to the whims of others was never in any of my job descriptions.
5: The politics
Working hard and doing a good job isn't always enough to get ahead. In some companies, you have to play the game. If you can't maneuver well in the office political arena — you can't or won't play basketball with the big boys — you might not get ahead. Office politics aren't always bad, but if you're not skilled, it's best to stay out of the game.
I'm not implying that a failed political strategy is always the culprit. Just because you do a great job doesn't mean you should be the boss. Some life lessons hurt; ask me how I know.
6: The drama
There's at least one drama queen in every company. They're unable to do their jobs due to circumstances beyond their control, but they're quick to point out your mistakes — even when there aren't any. Their boss mistreats them, but they sure love your boss! Everyone knows they have more work to do than anyone else does, because they tell you so. In short, they make a lot of noise and create unnecessary distractions. They're a drain on morale and production. How they keep their jobs is a mystery (see #5).
7: The overtime
Overtime can be great, unless you're a salaried employee. Then, you belong to your employer. Your life outside the office takes second place to the company's needs. Some salaried employees make a lot of money, but when you figure in their time, the hourly wage shrinks considerably.
8: The sexual tension
In most any group, a romantic couple will emerge. Trying to hide the obvious makes everyone uncomfortable. Is it safe to go into the copy room? When one or both is cheating on a spouse, it's worse. If the relationship is between a superior and a subordinate who doesn't want the attention, it's downright ghastly. (I'm not against office romance, just the seedier side of things.)
9: The committees
Committees where members work toward a common goal for the company are a good thing. Committees that protect individuals from having to use good judgment aren't. Employee-led committees with authority delegated by a weak boss aren't much better. Change for business reasons is necessary; change to suit individual personalities is usually bad for morale.
10: The lack of control
Some positions come with limited opportunities. It's not the company or the employee, it's the nature of the position. Job satisfaction can be fleeting, if not downright impossible in such a position. If you're lucky, you can propose changes that are beneficial to both you and the company. Often, the company just wants you to twist widgets, so you try to be the best widget-twister the company's ever seen while you look for a better job, just in case nobody notices.
Have you left traditional employment behind? What factors led to that decision — and what aspects of that environment are you happy you don't have to deal with anymore?
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.