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An Employee Perspective: The Work-Changing Magic of Letting Go

There’s a cultural tradition that takes place during our new hire orientation here at Ultimate Software. In a ballroom with 100 or so other new UltiPeeps, we are asked a simple yet pervasive question:

“What negative experience from an old job do you still hold onto?”

I remember that question lingering in the air for only a moment before a number of bad memories during my relatively short career came rushing to the forefront of my mind. From part-time jobs as a teenager to my first “real job” coming out of college, I recounted those less than ideal moments vividly as if they had just happened.

“Write it down on a piece of paper.”

Our facilitator’s voice directed us to the small notecards that were provided to us. I looked around the room at the dozens of round tables filled with UltiPeeps and saw that their pens were already scribbling away. Everyone had some undesirable memory from a past job that was so top-of-mind that a single question could shake it loose and make it real again. Toxic cultures. Nightmarish bosses. We all wrote down those memories. Once we were all done writing, the facilitator spoke again.

“Now… let it go.”

She asked us to take that notecard, and crumble it. Rip it in half. Tear it into pieces. Whichever we’d like. And then, she instructed us to take that memory to one of the many bins that lined the walls of the room and toss it out. The minute that those torn pieces of the notecard left my hand, the reason behind this initially strange request suddenly became clear.

Right up until that moment, no matter how much I heard or read about Ultimate Software’s amazing culture, I couldn’t fully buy into it. Even after I was hired and spent countless hours with my incredible team, shared lunches with remarkable peers and leaders alike, and celebrated victories with my department and the whole organization, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t last.

The company culture felt too good to be true, and the only reason it felt that way was because I, like so many others, had formed an opinion about what work could be based on what work had been. Unless I could allow myself to unlearn that apprehension and relearn what a strong company culture could do for my relationship with work, I would always be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Almost two and a half years later (a considerable measure of time in Millennial years), and I’m happy to say that I’m still in love with Ultimate’s culture of putting people first—and I’m certainly not the only one who loves the culture around here.

If Marie Kondo can change the world by getting us all to throw away an old t-shirt, surely letting go of some negative past work experiences can help create more space for positive ones, right? So now it’s your turn.

Feel free to use the headlines in this article as a guide. Think about that old job, jot down that bad memory, and let it go. Did you try it? How has positive company culture changed the way you look at work? Let me know in the comments below.

Did a bad boss come to mind during that practice? Make sure you never become one by discovering the four different types of nightmarish bosses (and their impact on culture and ratings) in our new whitepaper, Don’t Be a Nightmare Boss.