Should You Accept a Job in an Organization Where You’ll Never Be Really Engaged?

Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.


What should I do…

so I don’t rue…

decisions made

that I need to redo?

 How important is it, for people to really understand what’s important to them now and in the longer term in order to make sure that they don’t accept a job or join an organization in which they will never be able to be fully engaged?

This question brought back my own memory of a summer job I once had in which I held both of my bosses in contempt.  All I was working for was the $599 I could earn and my father could still claim me as a dependent.

But that was a situation where my feelings didn’t matter; as soon as I earned that $599 I was out of there and back to school.  And in a perverse way it was a good experience because I finally had to do something that mattered in conditions I really disliked.  It’s always a good lesson to learn there will be times you have to take a deep breath, discipline yourself and stick it out.

Even in what are generally good times that can happen:  Years ago a friend of mine whose son graduated from law school and accepted a job with one of California’s most prestigious law firms.  During the three months the firm gave him to study for the bar exam, red ink imploded in most of the state’s law firms, including his.  Last hired, he was the first to be let go.

With large numbers of very experienced lawyers suddenly unemployed, competition soared for any legal opening and there were very, very few of those.  Grateful to be employed at all, this young man, who had graduated from a top-5 law school, accepted a variety of short-term positions including a pretty long stint as a legal temp.  After five years he finally got a full-time job and it was in his legal specialty.  The only problem was the firm’s clients were defendants and his passion lay in bringing miscreants to justice.

That mismatch was deadly.  When he began the job he was happy to finally be employed but he was miserable because, as he said, I’m on the wrong side!”  As he was very bright, responsible and hard working, his performance was okay.  After two years as jobs began to open, he started searching for a position on the “right side” and he finally found it.  In that job, from the very beginning, his performance was inspired – he was fully committed and engaged – and he soon became a star.

What, then, do we take away from these anecdotes?

  • It is every person’s responsibility to know what they think they really don’t want to do as well as what they think they’d love to do.  Notice the word “think” in that sentence.  We don’t really know how we’ll react before we’re in a situation.  Conviction comes from experiencing, not from thinking. Know yourself.
  • Before people accept a job and join an organization, it is also their responsibility to learn what are the values, expectations and informal rules that govern the place.  Best Fit requires a marriage of views between the organization and each of its members to increase the chances for success.  Know the organization.
  • There are mutual and reciprocal responsibilities between the organization and each member based on personal and organizational self-awareness and reasonably full disclosure.  Honesty is required.
  • While Best Fit is the ideal, in reality, there are always degrees of freedom, some depending on one’s mobility:  single parents who share child custody, for example, are often less mobile.  And what’s happening in the general economy, or the place where you live, or in your industry, or your specialty… can make opportunities scarce or bountiful.  As John Lennon said, Life is what happens when we’re planning something else.
  • That’s why sometimes people have to learn to make omelets from broken eggs.  I am not Pollyanna, who was famous for saying, “I’m glad I broke my leg for I might have broken two!”  But there are times life stinks and we still have to keep going.  Resilience is as important as education or smarts.

So, the theoretical answer to this question is never accept a position or join an organization where you don’t fit and your strongest priorities, values and needs cannot and will not be met.

But if in reality there are few opportunities and limited mobility, we suck it up, learn whatever we can for the duration, and prepare as best we can to increase our options.



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