• Friday, June 21, 2024
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Case Study: Stick with a bad new job or cut your losses?

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MANAGER WEIGHS WHETHER TO STAY FOR THE PAY OR EXPLORE OTHER OPTIONS.  Ricci’s first day was off to a bad start. She’d been excited about her new role as a program manager at Rescue, the oldest and largest aid organization fighting global poverty. She’d risen early; walked her dogs; eaten breakfast with her boyfriend, Mateo; packed a lunch; and still managed to get to the office before 9:00. She’d thought arriving early would make a good impression.

When Mia walked into the lobby, she saw a few familiar faces from her previous visit, but the receptionist was the only one to greet her. His name was Anthony, and although she thought they’d bonded last time, he looked up at her quizzically. “Can I help you?” he asked.

“It’s great to see you again,” Mia said. “I’m Mia, the new program manager.”

“Oh, right,” Anthony said, unsmiling. “Take a seat, and I’ll give you some paperwork to fill out while I grab your manager. It’s Michael, right?”

Mia had been in the building for less than five minutes and already she felt discouraged. Things didn’t improve from there. Anthony couldn’t find Michael, so he escorted her back to a dim room full of cubicles. The one person already there, a support team coordinator named Jessie Carbone, introduced herself quickly, explained that IT hadn’t set up Mia’s desk yet, suggested that she sit at a vacant workstation, and went back to typing.

At 10:30 Michael finally stopped by to hand Mia a stack of reading material and explain that his day was packed but he hoped to catch up with her later that afternoon. He never did.

Mia spent five hours coordinating with HR and IT via her cellphone and personal email account. She ate lunch at the borrowed desk. A few other employees came in and out during the day, and she smiled warmly and waved, but no one seemed to know who she was. Finally, a technician arrived with a laptop and a monitor, which he installed at the desk farthest from the window.

Mia found herself thinking wistfully about her previous workplace, Azzurro, a startup that used smart container sensors to help retail businesses better manage waste. She’d joined it just after graduating from the University of Bologna with a degree in international management and had been promoted to the business analyst in less than four years. She liked the work and the people.

But then she met Saul Rizzo, a senior HR director at Rescue, at a networking event. He mentioned a role at the organization’s new outpost in Bologna — one of its 92 offices worldwide — and Mia was immediately intrigued. The job would include setting up data and reporting systems and working with a seasoned Rescue manager to outline critical business processes and identify key performance indicators.

At an interview a few weeks later, Saul had offered her a salary nearly double what Azzurro was paying her and promised that she would not only have a personal growth plan but also be able to work on the ground once a month helping populations in crisis. It had seemed like a no-brainer to make the move. Mateo agreed.

Now, considering whether she should book a meeting with Michael for the next day — basically forcing him to onboard her properly — Mia wondered if she’d made the right decision.

Just then she got a text from Mateo: “How was it???”

She replied with a thumbsdown emoji and “I need a drink. Let’s meet at the usual spot.”


“It was a disaster,” Mia said after recounting her workday. Mateo nodded empathetically.

“Do you think I made a mistake? I mean, I really liked Azzurro, but the humanitarian work sold me on Rescue.”

“Don’t forget the pay!” Mateo said jokingly. Mia sighed. As the primary breadwinner in their household (Mateo was a struggling artist), she was already feeling the pressure.

“Seriously, though,” he went on. “It’s too early to know. It’s such a different culture, and Rescue is a huge organization. How many employees did Azzurro have?”

“A hundred,” she said. “Rescue has thousands.”

“Right. And they’re just setting up this branch. It may be a particularly chaotic time.”

“It’s just so weird to have no official welcome, no onboarding, not even any real assignment. I’ve spoken with Michael only twice — on the phone during the interview process and very briefly this morning. You’d think he’d want to at least have a conversation with me on my first day.”

“I’m sure it was an anomaly,” Mateo said. “Tomorrow will be better. Rescue is reputable, and on paper this is a good career move.”

“I know, I know. You’re right.” Mia gulped her wine. She just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. AN ANNOYING ASSIGNMENT The following afternoon Mia finally met with Michael. “Mia, welcome,” he said brusquely. “Sorry I couldn’t get to you earlier — I’ve been tied up in strategy meetings. As you can see, we’re still getting our systems in order. Let’s talk about your first project.”

He said he wanted her to audit the processes of three departments — warehouse, supply chain and delivery — that were essential to Rescue’s missions. Each unit combined employees transferred from other Rescue offices and recent hires brought in to help experiment with new strategies. Mia’s job was to see whether those strategies were more efficient than Rescue’s current ones.

The assignment was not what she had expected, but she nodded and smiled.

“Anything else?” Michael asked, turning back to his laptop.

“Actually,” Mia said, “when I was recruited, Saul mentioned that I’d have a chance to participate in some field projects.”

Michael looked surprised — and a little annoyed. “Hmm. I don’t mean to disappoint you, Mia, but that’s not what I had in mind for this position. We’re just building this operation, and we need internal staff members to stay focused on their responsibilities here.”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

“OK,” Mia said, trying to hide her dismay.


Mia spent the next three weeks toiling away at the auditing project, but it wasn’t easy. Michael had forgotten to introduce her to a few department heads, so although some were friendly and forthcoming, others ignored her repeated emails or only reluctantly shared information. She’d asked Michael for advice several times, but he’d basically blown her off. And when her work was finished, it took her five days to get half an hour with him to present her findings. He’d been complimentary but then asked her to track some new metrics. She asked about broadening the scope of her duties, but his phone rang, and he waved her away. “Sorry, I have to take this. Let’s discuss next time we meet.”

Desperate to confide in someone besides Mateo, Mia asked Jessie if she’d ever had any problems getting Michael’s attention.

“It’s not his fault,” Jessie said. “It’s this organization. It’s just such a bureaucracy. He has to run every new idea up the food chain. We’re always short-staffed because they’re always opening new offices. And they move people around so much that everyone’s constantly in learning mode, trying to get up to speed on a new geography. Don’t get me wrong — we do amazing work out in the field. We do help people. But inside, it’s a slog.”

“Do you ever get involved in that outside work?” Mia asked.

“Oh, no. We’re the back office. Our job is to help the people who are experts at fieldwork do theirs.”

Her heart sank. Mia decided she’d email Saul and request a video call. To her surprise, he replied within the hour and said he had 30 minutes free at 5:00.

Mia was determined to be upfront about her disappointment. She outlined how unnecessarily difficult her initial assignment had been and how rarely she interacted with Michael, even though she thought part of her job was to partner with him on performance indicators. “Plus he doesn’t seem open to my doing any direct humanitarian work, even though that was a big pull for me,” she said.

Saul looked concerned. “I know, and I mentioned that to him. My sense is that the audits are just the first step and that you’ll get into the more interesting work soon. He may have forgotten our discussion because things are so hectic right now.” He asked her to be patient and promised to talk with Michael. “We’re lucky you’re here, Mia. Let’s see if we can turn things around.”

AN AMBIGUOUS MESSAGE That evening Mia was doing the dishes after dinner when her phone signaled a new email. It was from Michael. She called Mateo into the kitchen to hear the message:

“Dear Mia, I’m writing to let you know that I spoke with Saul this evening. We discussed your role and the misalignments that resulted in a negative experience for you. Given the demands of my role, it’s difficult for me to meet regularly with all the members of my team, but I’m happy to set up a weekly check-in to support you. There are certain tasks that will greatly benefit the organization that I’d like you to stick with. But there may be other responsibilities we can add that would be more in line with your interests. Best regards, Michael”

“Hmm,” Mateo said. “Is he sorry for being such a bad boss since you started, or is he angry at you for talking to Saul?”

“I’m not sure,” Mia replied. “He’s saying the right things, but it’s such a cold, formal email, so I can’t help feeling that he sent it only because he got in trouble. Maybe going over Michael’s head was a mistake.”

“Well, you’ve tried talking to Michael and didn’t get anywhere. And it’s clear he didn’t understand what Saul promised you, so they needed to have a conversation. Even if he’s saying all this under duress, at least he’s saying it.”

“But can I trust him? Can I trust the organization? It has such a great reputation, but from the inside it seems like a mess.”

Mateo hugged her. “You’ve never been the kind of person to settle,” he said. “If it’s that bad, maybe it’s time to cut your losses.” “And do what? I need a job.” “Of course. We rely on your income. But what did your boss say when you left Azzurro? She said you could always come back.” “Doesn’t everyone say that?” “No. They loved you there.”

Mia smiled, but she was still conflicted. “I guess I could reach out to recruiters, too.”

“See — you have options.” “I know. I need to think more about what I’m going to do.”

“Well, I’m here to talk whenever you need to. I’ll support your decision.”