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Is it Me, or Are all My Bosses Jerks?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have had 4 jobs in my life since college graduation. Three of the 4 have ended in requests that I leave/resign. Normally I would think that this means I am just a loser and not following the rules and thus getting myself kicked to the curb.

Here is the problem; According to all of the people who asked me to resign, I was a "model" employee.

My performance reviews were always "Excellent" and "Exceeds Expectations", etc.

In my personal efforts; I take care to be well groomed, on time for work, polite, co-operative, excellent in customer service skills, and a hard worker. My former employers have all described me as such.

I'm absolutely exhausted trying to figure our what went wrong and where with these jobs. I believe in working hard; doing my job, and doing to the best of my ability. But that seems to work against me.

People see that I am willing to work, so they attempt to 'delegate' work to me. If I do it, then the boss tells me to stop hogging credit. If I refuse, then the boss tells me I'm not being a team player.

This has happened in each of the 3 jobs I have been asked to resign from and in each cast the reason for asking me to leave was "does not mesh well with office culture" or "not a team player". Yet I have yet to be involved with any conflict between myself and another employee.

How does one be a team player? What am I missing? Am I just a bad employee? I cannot believe that I managed to find 3 lousy places to work in a row.

What am I doing wrong and more importantly, how can I keep it from happening again?

You are definitely doing something wrong here and I suspect it has to do with boundaries. Your managers have also been at fault if you have not had it clearly explained to you that you are behaving in a way that damages, rather than helps, employee morale.

It's also possible that they have explained, until they are blue in the face, what your problem is and you haven't heard. Not that you haven't heard the actual words, but they having clicked in your brain. This may be because they are bad communicators or it may be that you discount everything they say because you're doing everything right.

You say that you're always willing to help people out, but get branded as "not a team player." You probably help by taking over the whole project instead of putting together the two graphs your coworker asked about. You think you're helping and they think you're overstepping boundaries. People don't say anything to you because people are wimps. Instead, they complain to the boss and the boss finds it easier to fire you than to correct your boundary issues.

Of course, I could be wrong. It's impossible for me to tell from here. But, what I would do, if you are really interested in fixing the problem, is inviting 3 or 4 former coworkers to tell you what their impressions of you are. Try asking something like this:

"Jean, I've been fired from 3 jobs for not being a 'team player.' I would really like to correct that issue, but I'm afraid I don't know how. Could you possibly tell me three ways I could improve? I promise to shut up and listen to what you have to say."

Some people won't do that. They'll keep to the "Oh, you were fine," line because they are still wimps. But, you're likely to find at least a couple of people who will tell you. By asking for 3 ways, it gives them a solid start and end of the discussion.

Then, go to your friends and family members and ask the same thing. You'll probably get joking responses that aren't really jokes. Things like, "Well, you know, we always you don't need to ask for Kara's opinion, she's given it before we can get the question out!" Ha! Ha! Ha! They're being serious, but they don't want to hurt your feelings.

You can also ask your former bosses, but it sounds like you've asked them and they've given you these vague responses. Try again. And remember, shut up and listen to their responses. Thank them profusely. Assure them you're not looking to be rehired.

You're on the right path. Figuring out what the problem is, is half the battle.

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