January 2019 I joined a small beauty and cosmetics startup, taking on a role as a Content Creator to fill various needs within the Marketing team such as social media, print design, and web. A few months later my role changed to Content Designer and my responsibilities grew in tandem, now managing email marketing and driving revenue. The last transition I saw within the company before my departure was that of a Design Lead, still holding all prior responsibilities but now taking on an increased amount of web projects – strategizing and building out new products such as a new education platform.
When I highlight these transitions, from the outside it doesn’t seem so bad – it would look like I was experiencing some solid career growth within a short amount of time. But when I dive deeper into the details of my experience which have led me to this point now, a past employee of the company who left her job during a worldwide pandemic, my experience isn’t as it may appear.
In this article, I’m going to touch on:
- The growing pains companies face as businesses scale and the direct effects it has on employees and the internal operations of a workplace
- The effects of improper organizational structures, and the implications of not adapting with growth
- How being resistant to change can be harmful for both employees and management, and the benefits of being open to new ideas
- The importance of non-negotiables and why you should consider having a few
Before I get into the details, there are a couple of things I’d like to mention first – the purpose in sharing this experience is to guide others who are in the same position as I once was to learn the importance of asking for help, the importance of accountability, and being self-aware to know when something isn’t working and the need to move on.
In hindsight, I am grateful for the opportunities I was provided and the lessons learned along the way. It was a big building block in my career.
Company Growing Pains
The past few years the beauty industry has been rapidly evolving in ways never seen before - digital was at the forefront and services were more inclusive. The company was an industry leader and had great momentum.
As any company rapidly grows, there are natural side effects that come with it.
The positives were increased top and bottom line numbers, strong influence on the industry, and revenue diversification. However the challenges were also retaining talent, maintaining a healthy company culture, and building a foundation for scalability as the demand for more talent grew.
The growing pains experienced were that of the challenges highlighted above. We were operating on a foundation that was never fully solidified, there was a need for additional talent to be brought onto teams, positions were not fully defined by responsibilities, and the lack of leadership became much more apparent as time went on. All of these things are fixable, but only if there is a willingness to do so.
Overworked and Undervalued
Like any growing company, there’s always a period of time where things are moving at light speed, launching new products, working on new special projects, and taking on responsibilities that you normally wouldn’t. You might feel like you’re overworked and undervalued temporarily but you’re hoping for reciprocation in recognition and rewards.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and some companies fail to recognize that.
For small startups, all it takes is for someone senior to resign and it completely disrupts the company’s productivity, momentum, and culture. Resignations in critical times like these (especially during a pandemic) for someone senior may be an indication of many things, but in this case it was that overworking and being undervalued was permanent rather than being temporary.
To be clear – increased workloads paired with a lack of support was a part of the issue here, this was not the true root of the problem. There are two major factors that I consider the root of the problem:
Improper Organizational Structures
Without properly structured teams, productivity potential within teams is minimized. By understanding employee roles and responsibilities, as well as the growth trajectory a company is on, it’s beneficial for management to consider the changing needs of a business. Sometimes this entails rethinking how the current organizational structure is built and re-strategizing how the structure could be. The implications of poorly organized structures include faulty communication, stifled productivity, and unaccountable leadership.
With good organizational structures, companies can expect:
- Internal growth and the opportunity for expansion
- Higher efficiency due to clear roles, responsibilities, and capabilities
- The alignment of goals and a clear vision for teams
Resistance to Change
As a business grows, processes and practices that were once appropriate no longer work. Here, the need for thoughtful action to take place is critical, because reactionary management does more harm than good. When it comes to change, it can be disruptive to how a business is currently operating and that’s where much resistance takes place. I do think it’s imperative for leaders to consider the negative consequences in their resistance, and instead think of the benefits change could bring such as improved culture, increased communication, and more synchronized teams.
From my experience, improper organizational structures paired with the resistance to change can lead to some tough situations:
- Employees shoulder more responsibilities than they should be without being properly compensated for these major changes, all while trying to fulfill the original works their day-to-day requires
- Employees who ask for help and offer up positive suggestions are often led to a road block because management oversees their concerns and neglects providing them the resources they need, in turn affecting an employees success in fulfilling their job
- Positions are often blurred and job titles don’t provide the proper context of who is responsible and accountable for what. Knowing who to turn to for direction becomes complicated.
Appreciation Is Cheaper Than Churn
Despite the value that was provided and putting in the hours, bonuses during quarterly reviews were dismissed despite the high level of performance. As you can imagine, working endless hours and increasing revenue during the pandemic you would expect to be rewarded for your performance, which wasn’t the case.
This initiative to ‘run lean’ often times leads to vulnerable positions for a few reasons:
- These roles become permanent because it’s ‘easier’ to have one person partake in various responsibilities than to hire a net-new employee
- Certain tasks become neglected due to overtasking, leading to major gaps in an employee's performance regardless of their efforts
- The ability to refine your role or position within the company seems minimal and the opportunity to grow up the ladder seems out of sight, in turn leading to higher turn-over
Let Your Non-Negotiables Guide You
Do you have non-negotiables in life? I do. These are a set of guiding principles in my life that I have chosen to not overlook. My non-negotiables for a career are simple. A fair salary, opportunity to constantly learn, work from home flexibility, a non-toxic culture. When I reflected on these non-negotiables I set for myself, it became clear that they were not aligned with my role:
- My salary did not reflect both my past work experience, the industry standards, or the work I was fulfilling within the company
- I was taking the initiative to learn on my own but there was a lack of informal and formal learning opportunities to engage in within the workplace
- Remote working was initially frowned upon until the pandemic hit and teams were given no other option than to work from home
- The reliance of perks do not motivate people to do their best work, but good culture and positive work environments do
I don’t like to fail, in fact, I despise it. The thought of letting myself and other people down is what gives me so much drive to succeed. At first I thought that leaving the company would mean letting my team down and adding to their already overwhelming workload. I thought I would be letting myself down because I didn't have a backup plan, which to my surprise wasn’t something I would have to be worried about.
So here I was, in the middle of a global pandemic with no backup plan, ready to leave my position because my career, personal goals, and mental wellbeing are not things I am ever willing to compromise on.
June 5th 2020 was my final day with the company and months later I’m still confident that it was the best decision for me. Here are some of the reflections and learnings that stand out from this experience:
- Being a generalist is not a bad thing, in fact I think it’s extremely valuable to be able to flex into different roles, especially in agency settings. But I believe there is a time and a place for this and taking the leap to hire specialists within a growing company can be the reason a company flourishes or fails
- Holding a management title does not qualify you as leadership material. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader, and that is okay
- If you are a business owner or are part of management, listen to your employees needs and strongly consider what they have to say. They see the business in a different light than you do so this information gives you valuable insights to things you may be overlooking
- Walk away from anything that does not make you happy, bring you value, or give you purpose. Life is too short to work for people or places you no longer believe in. There are always other options
I’ll be sharing more of my experiences of what followed my resignation from this job in the posts to come. Thank for reading and stay tuned!