Learning to Leave: Knowing Your Worth in the Workplace

by Irimar Garcia-Sanchez

As college students, the one thing that many of us can agree with is this: we need a job. Sometimes we find the perfect job. It’s accommodating to your class schedule, close to your home or campus, and pays well. Sometimes, however, things don’t turn out too hot. It can cause stress, anxiety, frustration, lack of sleep, and the usual aches and pains that come with being overworked.

Since money makes the world go ‘round, it’s essential to have even the smallest amount of cash so that you can afford textbooks, meals, school supplies, rent, and other financial burdens that get tossed your way. We keep ourselves in jobs that we hate because we don’t want to spend a single day without financial stability. We are obligated to rely on credit cards or other means to get by. The tedious process of finding a new job that’ll take your school schedule into consideration and pay the way your old job did is a task that we just don’t want to put ourselves through. For the most part, it just isn’t worth the time.

Enough is Enough

I can tell you, from personal experience, that staying in a job that adds unnecessary stress to your life can be debilitating. I can also tell you that it’s hard to leave when you know it gives you a steady paycheck and allows you to live a certain lifestyle. Here’s the thing, though.

Employers know this.

They know that you need this job, the economy is tight, and there aren’t other jobs readily available for you. They know they have power and can abuse you, putting you to work on tasks that aren’t within your job parameters.

My Story

I started working in retail in 2015 while I was a student at Valencia. Working as a sales associate in a shoe department, I was getting paid hourly plus commission. I started part time and soon enough I was one of the top employees there. A modern day Al Bundy. And it was an easy job. I got to socialize with my coworkers, score amazing deals on shoes, and earn enough money to pay for rent, car insurance, and the occasional trip to Starbucks. Everything seemed to have been going well.

Eventually I got promoted to be the specialist of shoes, receiving an incentivized pay based on the sales per quarter of my department. I didn’t think that things could get any better for me as I began to make my transition to becoming a full-time student at UCF. I informed my manager of the change and they accommodated me with no questions asked.

But things soon took a turn for the worst. The company cut the funding for our store and I lost my specialist position and my commission pay. Unfortunately, I wasn’t compensated for the loss of income because it was considered incentive pay. I tried to convince them to compensate me since I exceeded my goals by 30% every quarter since being hired, an act of which they hadn’t seen with any of their previous specialist. I was turned down.

Suddenly, more changes started to happen and the humane treatment of not just me, but the other employees, began to dissipate into nothingness. By the end of 2017 into the following year, I was working 6 different jobs and getting paid for only one of them. Not only was I a sales associate, but I was also an associate in support, merchandising, signage, fulfillment, and receiving. There were coworkers who didn’t have tenure the way I had that were getting paid more than me to do less work. I would have to wait hours into my shift to get someone to give me a break and if my shift was less than 6 hours long, I wouldn’t get a break at all. My hours would vary between 36 hours a week and 12 hours a week with no warning.

I had enough. Not only was my work environment causing my pre-existing anxiety to worsen, but I was never home. I went straight from school to work and vice versa, only going home to shower and sleep. I’d skip meals due to lack of time and miss assignment deadlines because I fell asleep on my laptop. I was beaten and bruised, physically and psychologically. That’s when I decided to quit.

Knowing Your Worth

Now I understand that this decision can be scary for some people, but it gets to a point where you need to know your worth. As a college student, your worth is always in question. Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I a hard-enough worker? What do they think of me?

If you feel that you’re being mistreated in your workplace, speak to the human resources department or corporate if they’re available. The purpose of these departments is to take the concerns of the employees and make sure that they feel comfortable in their environment.

I’ll be honest, it doesn’t always work. After going to human resources and informing them of the mistreatment and unfortunate circumstances I had found myself in, they had promised that they would change things. After the third time going to HR and receiving no results, I gave up.

If they don’t listen to your concerns, then you need to take a stand and quit. Leaving may be the best thing you can do. It may also be the only thing you can do.

Now, I understand your concerns. What about the money? When I quit my job, I thought day in and day out. For four months I saved every penny I could by limiting myself on extra activities and outings that I normally spent a boat load of money on each week and set it aside. By the end of those four months I had enough money saved up to last me until I found another job. The best approach is to find another job and have it lined up before you quit, but I didn’t have this option. I was too emotionally destroyed to continue with the job I was in to wait until I had another job lined up.

I believed in my worth when I quit, and you should too. It’s hard to feel appreciated and sufficient when you’re constantly being beat down by the people you seek to measure your value. If you can’t make the decision to leave, it’s important to understand your worth in the workplace. Make your higher ups see how hard you work, how smart you are, and that you are good enough for that raise, or at least a break.