The job didn’t pay what I hoped, but I was an American in England, 27 and broke, and after months of rejections, I took it. Administrative assistant at an accountancy. Snore-fest. But it was money, and it was work that I could leave at work. Perfect for supporting a career as a writer.
It didn’t worry me that, during the interview, the two hiring managers, let’s call them Jack and Tanya, pulled out an organizational chart and started pointing out disagreeable members of staff and telling me to watch out for them. I thought they were just being funny. Besides, once I started, my coworkers seemed fine.
The first few weeks were great, as I settled into the routine of the office job I’d kind of wanted for a while. And contrary to what I’d been told, my coworkers were eager to get to know me, the American among them. But the novelty soon began to wear off. It was hard to be fresh when I arrived because I was cycling two miles to get to the office, and the people were so dissimilar to me that I had trouble connecting with them.
And then there was Tanya.
Tanya was the person I worked most closely with. Essentially, she was training me to do her job, so she could spend more time at the company’s sister office. She was also one of those people who is phenomenal at appearing very busy without actually accomplishing anything. This meant she frequently didn’t have time to properly train me or support me in any way. But she did have time to nitpick everything I wore, everything I did, and all of my work.
While being constantly reprimanded for everything from the dress code, to my tone of voice, to eating some biscuits left out by a client after a meeting, I also began to notice some of the politics festering under the company’s skin. Workplace affairs, expenses being diddled for personal gain, tax fraud, just to name a few. Between that and a bourgeoning distaste for capitalism, my morale was beginning to suffer.
The tipping point came the day after the November 2016 election. I felt numb and anxious—not over what I might face at work, of course, but over a fear of what a Trump presidency meant for my country and the people I cared for.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the gleeful reaction some of my coworkers had to the news. They approached me, grins plastered across their faces, saying things like, “How about that Trump win, eh?” like it was a plot twist on Love Island. I couldn’t get my mind around the frivolity with which they approached an event that would endanger so many people.
December 2016 was a dark time. Between the nonchalant cruelty, corruption, and petty busybodying, it was clear that I had to get out, for the sake of my health. But with rejections piling up from both employers and publishers, I was losing hope of anything better than this job. There was no end in sight, it seemed, to being Tanya’s whipping boy.
Then, on the twentieth of December, I went for a job interview with another company. Within an hour, I got a callback. They offered me the job. I was walking through the office with a tray of drinks for the admin team when the call came in. I balanced the phone on my shoulder to speak to my new job’s HR manager in generic phrasing so no one would be any wiser.
I gave one week’s notice. And then I bragged about it on Twitter, which ended up being how my colleagues found out I was leaving. Half of them were gone on Christmas break, and Tanya was out of the office with an illness, so she had no clue.
My last week was quiet and relaxed. I mostly worked on creating a handover bible to help the next poor soul who would do my job—and maybe as a refresher for Tanya, who’d have to start doing her job again. But I also decided to put together some parting gifts. The admin team would come back in January to a personalized gift on each of their desks. Scrabble cookie cutters for the one who enjoyed baking. A mug of sweets. And a carved wooden candle holder in the shape of a cat for Tanya. She loved cats almost as much as she loved being awful to me. I ordered a large box of American sweets for everyone else.
Why? Because I felt incredible relief at escaping such a toxic environment, and I wanted to share a little of that merriment on my way out. Consider it part of trying to become a more gracious person. Or perhaps a counterbalance to the fact that I was leaving the office without their primary administration employee with no real meaningful warning.
Whatever the reason, it really set the tone for a truly joyful Christmas and a hopeful New Year, looking forward to a fresh start at a job that I came to love.