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Ask L2: Using Your Voice

"My boss had a long line of employees straight out of college who were afraid to speak out ... They left without saying a word. The boss claims it was burnout from nonprofit work. It wasn’t. I want to speak out further."


Disclaimer: Identities are kept confidential. The advice given here should be taken at your own risk. If you are having true mental or physical issues, please seek professional assistance.


How do you know when you are using your voice for good or crossing the line to out someone for bad behavior because of your negative feelings? I left an organization (after less than a year) that has a long history of toxicity in leadership. When I resigned—the third person in our five-person department in a month—I was only afforded an exit interview with HR regarding benefits. I wrote brief points on an exit sheet that asked, “What did you dislike about your job?” I was not given the meeting I requested with upper management and my boss told me not to come back at the end of the week.


Long story short, after the second resignation in our department, we had a meeting about morale. Our boss inferred that the last person who quit (after a week on the job) was tainted because we were “negative”. I was the only remaining full-time employee left. After asking for feedback about our morale, two days later she wrote me up for having a negative attitude and accused me of not completing work tasks. It was clearly retaliation. I am angry because:

  • I have been working hard to make improvements and positive changes.

  • We accomplished so much with an absentee boss.

  • I cared so much and it’s hurtful to be characterized as negative.

And the “Ned Stark” in me also feels like I need to expose the abuses. I am a 48-year-old white woman. My boss had a long line of employees straight out of college who were afraid to speak out and tell the truth about what was happening there. They left without saying a word.

The boss claims it was burnout from nonprofit work. It wasn’t. I want to speak out further. But like Ned Stark, I am wondering if I am just chopping off my own head at this point. And if I am just seeking some type of retaliation [sic]. I feel so powerless. Your thoughts would be appreciated if you have the time and feel so inclined. Many thanks.


 

This is a really good question. Sometimes the idea of vindication sounds so good that we’re willing to compromise parts of ourselves to get there, and the result isn’t what we were hoping for. My dad always used to say, “People like that will get what’s coming to them, but you’re not going to give it to them.”


If your only goal is revenge, let it be. You’ll get it, but not because you made it happen. You have to let the universe do what it does there, and your time is better spent elsewhere.


If your goal is to be made whole, to fix a bigger problem, or to help other people overcome whatever they’re going through, that’s a different story altogether. I tell my story often not because I want the people who were part of it to suffer, but because I want to normalize for other people that these things actually happen. Maybe it will be easier for someone else to understand what to do next or to refuse to accept a toxic environment because I spoke about mine. I get a lot of fulfillment and second-hand vindication from that because it makes me feel good to know that these things will help someone else. That has nothing to do with the people who were part of it, though.


Bottom line is, you need to know clearly what your goal is.

  • If it’s revenge, you’ll lose a part of yourself in that process.

  • If it’s fixing a systemic problem, you have to be willing to accept the consequences of that—even if they’re unfair or ridiculous.

  • If it’s helping someone else, you have to decide how you’re most comfortable doing that while still accepting the potential consequences of a retaliatory supervisor.

  • If you’re not sure if what is happening is legal or above board, you can always consult an attorney with your thoughts.

Define your actual goal rather than your current feelings. That will tell you what’s next.


L2



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