We’ve all been there. Working at a great (maybe even your dream) job, and yet something is deeply wrong. You feel like a stranger on your own team. You think your manager is missing the big picture, or misreading the details (or misunderstanding you). You are concerned about the values your organization says it upholds, and how people are actually acting (towards each other, the clients, or both). Yet, you really love the work (or another aspect of what is there for you). At this point most people are wondering what their options are and start nervously thinking about freshening up their resume, but what if there was another way to work within this circumstance?
If you experience disrespect, bullying, or other behaviour that is profoundly unwelcome or unethical I am not suggesting that you should stay. However, for many people thinking about leaving their current employer there are feelings of disappointment that “come and go”; one day is positive and shows promise and the next may be a disheartening example of worst fears – there is no consistency. Often this is experienced after the “honeymoon” period in a new role, or a re-organization, merger or other major shake-up at your place of work. Perhaps the “disruption” was an assessment or a performance review that was honest enough to make you feel vulnerable, even a bit “naked” at work, or you are just not being seen/heard by your manager and others. Things are just not what you had hoped they would be (or what they have been in the past). Now what? It’s a perfectly human response to want to move yourself out of discomfort (and out of your job/organization), and perhaps in the end that is really what is being called for, but before making any lasting decisions about your current role, take a look at some of the things that contribute most to disruption at work and what you can do about them.
Organizations often venture into cost cutting measures and reorganizations when there is a wider economic impact to their product/service or sector. Keeping yourself aware of what is happening in your profession and industry will allow you to develop and position your skills to be of highest value (with your current employer or a new one). You don’t have to read the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times each day to stay aware, but you will need to make some time to scan headlines and read items of interest in professional journals, blogs, periodicals or any industry-specific websites that help you better understand the bigger picture. This doesn’t mean a large time commitment, prudent use of news feeds and Internet will do the trick. Don’t enjoy reading? Network with people who do. For the price of a cup of coffee (or just making a point to connect with others socially) you can keep yourself aware of what is happening. Are the credentialing requirements changing in your profession? What is the economic health of your industry or sector? How exposed is your organization to political happenstance or currency fluctuations? These are things you need to be aware of if you want to ride the wave of discontent at work because it may have nothing to do with you or your company, it could be the market. Knowing that can help you make better decisions about your next move - stay and be a part of the solution, or go and find a more stable environment to work in.
Workplace culture is sometimes another point of dissent. What an organization says it aspires to be for its employees (or even it’s customers) may not be as present day-to-day as you expected. Be objective, and know that many organizations are reaching to increase job satisfaction and employee/customer engagement, but they aren’t necessarily where they want to be - yet. Additionally, the way employees experience their organization varies greatly from location to location (or department to department). If the organization is growing Sales but not R&D, there will be a difference in “climate” within those two departments. You will need to determine if the workplace culture you currently have is there long-term or a reflection of a recent shift in funding, leadership or focus (for better or worse). You always have the option to work towards making it better, finding willing hands and internal partners in your organization to do this. Do you feel comfortable having these conversations? Can you be a part of the solution? Can you manage your blossoming negativity? Is this something you are interested in becoming a part of for your team? Being a lonely champion of one can be heartbreaking, so look for opportunities to build shared understanding to objectively see what possibilities exist in your place of work. Workplace culture is a marathon, not a sprint, so be mindful of how resilient you are in the face of a process that will have many ups and downs and often no immediate results (but can be highly rewarding).
The leadership style exercised by your manager, or at the organization in general, may also be an intersection of discomfort. Whether you like to work in an environment that demonstrates you are trusted to run with things or you prefer to have each step articulated for you by your boss, being aware of your needs and how they are or are not being met by your current manager is key. Maybe you are not the right fit for each other, but a contributing factor may be that neither you nor your manager have committed to sitting down together and having a series of honest and compassionate conversations that can better steer your interactions and ultimately your working relationship. Have you spoken to your manager about your concerns (and not just in passing or by hinting, have you asked for his/her undivided attention to discuss this)? Do you have an objective understanding of how she/he likes to lead? What is important to him/her (and to your organization)? What support do you need from your manager? Communication is key in this relationship, and (for anyone who is ready to “pull the plug” and move on), if you aren’t comfortable having these conversations here, you aren’t likely to have these conversations elsewhere. It’s a partnership, and like any partnership you get out of it what you put into it; what part are you playing in making this important relationship work? Keep in mind you don’t have to like your manager, but you do need to get to a place of mutual respect and understanding, or this is painful (and if you can get to mutual respect here, that is a skill you can take with you everywhere).
All three of these areas, industry health, workplace culture and leadership style act as “tectonic plates” in any working environment. How well they “fit” with your needs, gifts and aspirations is something only you can determine. We all know the feeling we get when these things are working really well for us and when they are rubbing in the wrong ways; when that happens you may feel powerless to do anything about it. Except this is your life and your career, so before deciding to leave, see what can be done. Should you stay or should you go? That is something only you can determine. However if you have one foot “out the door” anyway, what harm is there in first figuring out what is possible? In other words, what have you got to lose?
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.