Unhappy at Work? A fresh way to decide if you should stay or go

Do you feel trapped by that thing you do to make a living?

Do you draft your fantasy resignation letter on a repeated basis?

Or maybe you just feel so beat down that you’ve resigned yourself that it is always going to be this way. After all, if you leave, you might land in a situation that is worse.

While the scenarios that make us unhappy at work are highly individual, there are only a few categories for why we are miserable. Once we identify the category, we are in a better place to take steps to break through.

The Types of Blocks

There are five categories for why we disengage in our day jobs:

- The people we work with--typically a boss, direct manager or people who work closely with our team.

- How well the position is aligned with our personality and skill sets.

- How effective we are at managing our priorities and energy resources.

- Not making enough profit in our work to meaningfully support ourselves.

- The amount of purpose we feel in the work we do.

Even though the specific challenge might be unique, knowing which type of problem the conflict resides in makes it easier to find solutions.


Identifying our block.

People blocks are the easiest to identify and the hardest to resolve. If the conversation of misery around our day job includes rehearsing interactions, complaining about an individual or sharing stories of the horrible (or just incompetent) things a specific person or group has done, then we have a people block.

In contrast to the people block, a position block is the easiest to resolve, but the hardest to identify. A position block happens when there is a mismatch between our functional work every day (ie. what we are doing) vs. our core personality, talents, skills and wiring.  It can result in frustration, boredom, feeling undervalued or it can simply induce apathy.

Priority blocks often aren’t seen as blocks when we are experiencing them because there is so much frenetic motion associated with it. The elusive possibility  'catching up' always seems just around the corner--making us blind to the fact that we are going not making progress.

Profit blocks are difficult because often we feel guilty about them. We think we aren't skilled enough to make more money or that we simply aren't managing what we have well enough.

Purpose blocks are all too obvious to the people experiencing them. The intense desire to resolve the gap between the dream and the day job results in a perpetual frustration and lack of fulfillment at work. It feels like the day job is using up too many resources away from the dream.


Do we stay or do we go?

Identifying the type of block we have before answering the ‘stay or go’ question can be highly effective in keeping us from leaving our situation and landing in a place plagued by the same problems we resign to get away from. But identifying a block doesn't always result in leaving.  Sometimes it helps us delay and choose the time of our departure, or--in many cases--it helps shift our expectations so that we are able to stay long term.

So how do we know if we should stay or go? Well, it depends on how we want to navigate our block….

Strategies for leaving

If we have a people block, we can play roulette and hope that the people in our next place are better than the ones we are leaving, or we can do some research. By getting involved in a professional organization we can learn which companies have great culture. While online research will show which firms have won ‘best places to work’ awards, the ‘real deal’ gets shared across lunches between professionals. By expanding our network, we not only learn where the people we want to be with are working, we also put ourselves in a place to get recommended when it is time to make the jump.

If we have a position block, our exit strategy is going to be a bit longer. The key is to figure out the source of the misalignment. Is it hard-wired (i.e. we hate sales and are working in a sales position, or we are extroverted in a job with no human contact)? Or is it soft-wired (with training we could pick up the skills we need, or there is another position in the company that interests us.)? The caveat is that if our employers have noticed the gap, we may not be in full control of the timing of our exit.

If we have a priority block, leaving should be a direct decision of identifying our priorities, then deciding the job isn’t aligned with them. If we leave because we feel overwhelmed without doing the hard work of identifying what is most important to us, then we will simply keep experiencing the same draining hamster wheel everywhere we work.

If we have a profit block, research is in order. Are you making a fair salary for the work you do? Professional organizations can be invaluable in providing salary surveys and there are salary-specific websites with a variety of information. In some industries, it is necessary to move to another company in order to negotiate a salary jump. You simply have to do your homework first.

If we have a purpose block, there are only two reasons to leave: 1) To take a position that is at least 80% aligned with our purpose; or 2) To take a job that requires less of us to free up time and energy to invest in our purpose. Making a lateral move when we have a purpose block won’t resolve the issue.


Strategies for staying

If we have a people block, the only thing we can change is us. Annoying Janice in accounting is still going to keep being passive-aggressive and micromanager Dave is still going to keep micromanaging. The issue is almost always about how these people’s actions make us feel, and that is something in our power to control. Because while we comprehensively cannot change them, we can set emotional boundaries so that their actions don’t impact how we feel about ourselves.

If we have a position block, staying is about reconnecting with what is special about us. Being mismatched in our work can make us feel undervalued. Taking the time to try new things can help us rediscover (or uncover for the first time) the things we are good at. Use joy as a clue. If it sparks our interest and feels like life, it probably is. And once we know what we are good at it becomes possible to bring all of that life and talent into our current job.

If we have a priority block and decide to say, we have to become a pro at writing down our highest priorities, aligning our resources to them and making the cut of all of the low priority things that drain us. It isn’t about ‘learning to say no,’ it is about learning what we most want to say yes to and not giving away all our resources so that we are empty when those priorities comes around.

If you have a profit block and want to stay, the best way to ask for a raise is to approach your boss and ask what you need to do to get to the next salary level. There is no compelling reason to provide more money to someone simply because they ask. Ask what your firm values and don't be shy about sharing why you are asking. Also, you can ask for things besides money.  Mobile phone, education reimbursement, company car, gym membership...sometimes it is easier for a firm to share those resources because they come from other budgets.

If we have a purpose block, staying usually requires finding where our day job and purpose overlap. This can be about opportunities to develop our talents, connecting with the company’s mission or carving out a purpose of our own within our context (ie. Caring for the people we work with and helping meet their needs.)


What to do after we break through a block

We all experience blocks in our work life, and just because we break through one doesn’t mean we won’t have to break through another later down the line. We can—however—observe some best practices to keep things in our day jobs flowing, like:


· Keeping good emotional boundaries so that other people don’t make us crazy.

· Maintaining a constant state of personal growth so that we have more choice when it comes to position.

· Making sure that our time and energy resources are aligned with our priorities and that we aren’t overspending.

- Ensuring we are providing high value to our firms so we can increase our profit.

· Being clear in our purpose so that we can move on opportunities that grow it.

Suspect you may have a block? Take the quiz to identify what type. 

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