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. 

Forget Time Management. Focus on Energy

Feel like no matter how many extra hours you work that you will never catch up?

Or maybe you live with the overwhelming feeling that there are simply too many demands to get done in a day.

It's easy to find ourselves barely managing the anxiety that there is not enough time.

We've been taught that our success (or failure) in this area is based on time management. And yet, everyone has the same 24 hours each day.

Why do some days seem to be wildly productive—yet others leave us feeling like we never left the finish line.

What if time is actually irrelevant?

Remember when we were a kid playing and time would fly by? Contrast that with the way we felt when our mom told us, "Clean your room!"

Time crawled.

So. Slowly.

We've all experienced how time ceases to be a factor when we are doing something we love. Minutes, hours and days can fly by when we are absorbed in a task that energizes us. When we are doing something engaging, we never notice time. We will get up early, stay up late and perform amazing feats of productivity in pursuit of it.

While time is a limited resource, energy is not. It is exponential and can be renewed.  Managing our personal energy is the difference between being a high performer enjoying our life or living depleted feeling like a hamster in a wheel.

Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project writes, "We feel better and perform better when four core energy needs are met: sufficient rest, including the opportunity for intermittent renewal during the work day; feeling valued and appreciated; having the freedom to focus in an absorbed way on the highest priorities; and feeling connected to a mission or a cause greater than ourselves."

Purpose impacts our energy. 

In thinking about your responsibilities right now...if you had all the time in the world to complete your task list, would you actually complete that task list?

Or if you had no time at all—such as with a terminal diagnosis—would you still do the same things with your limited hours that you are doing now?

The tasks that suck the life out of us are the ones that have lost their purpose. 

Benjamin Franklin is famous for asking himself at the end of every evening, "What good have I done today?" When we have a sense that the tasks we are committed to actually matter, we are energized by their completion. (Contrast that with the TPS Reports from the movie, Office Space.)

If you were to do an "energy audit" on your schedule right now—identifying things you do that energize you and things you do that drain you, there would likely be a  correlation—both high and low—in the sense of purpose you experience in those commitments.  While we might consider a task "important," it isn't the same as feeling like it contributes to a "mission or cause greater than ourselves."

Calibrating our tasks with purpose, can be a big boost to our energy reserves.

Motivation is a perishable commodity. Only commit to short timelines.

If we can execute quickly—before we start to question and second-guess ourselves—then big things can happen.  The faster we can get from ideation to execution, the more likely it is that we will put something out there in the universe.

There is a trend in personal planning to move from plotting out an entire year to only looking at 12 weeks at a time. Books like The 12 Week Year and planners like the Self Journal  or Freedom Journal focus on executing in short timelines in order to keep our motivation high. 

Why 13 weeks? Because moving quickly and creating tangible results silences our doubts. 

Perfectionism, fear and insecurity chip away at ideas. The caveat is that they need a timeline.  Tight planning cycles short-circuit our propensity for circular decision making.

Not only that, but 13 weeks allows us to create tighter alignment between motivation, purpose and activity.  Our context continually changes.  We may have once loved serving on a board, but 3 years later find we aren't in the same place that we were back then in terms of purpose.  Or maybe we committed to something only to learn a few weeks later how much it drains us.  Planning our commitments in 13-week increments keeps us focused on what matters most to us and minimizes getting trapped by things that drain us.

What do we do when we find that we have committed to too many things that deplete us? We have to man up and have the hard conversation. Motivation matters.

Building energy at work

Most of us respond to increasing demands at work by putting in longer hours, which takes a toll on our energy reserves:  physically, mentally, and emotionally.

"When we regiment our days too severely, when we stay completely focused on one task, our minds tend to stagnate after a time." writes Ori Brafman in The Chaos Imperative, "We need white space in order to avoid becoming so task focused that we lose our creativity."

Brian P. Moran, author of the 12-Week-Year, writes, “An effective breakout block is at least three-hours long and spent on things other than work. It is time scheduled away from your business during normal business hours that you will use to refresh and reinvigorate your mind, so that when you return to work, you can engage with more focus and energy.”

Few of us have the freedom to completely own our time at our day jobs; however, we can create pockets of time where we are engaged in something that recharges us.  While three hours may be ideal, 15 minutes can also have impact.  

We can also start to become aware when we've hit the point of diminishing returns. If what should be a short task begins to take way too long, we need to have the courage to either engage it the next day, find someone who has more skill in it than we do, or write it off as a task that lacks purpose.

Having exponential energy takes some investment.

We would never write a $10,000 check on an account with $150 in it, but we regularly write energy checks we can’t cash. Shifting our focus from managing time to managing energy can make a big difference in how we experience our schedules.

For example, with a time-management focus, we might skip working out because it takes too much time. But in an energy-focused system we will never skip the workout because it increases our energy.  Or we might get up an hour earlier each day to focus on our 'passion project' so that the rest of our day is fueled by knowing we've already accomplished something that matters to us. We might take the extra time to shop for groceries or make our lunch so that we aren't trapped in a fast-food rut.

Daily rhythms are a significant part of building personal energy.  Our spiritual practices, eating habits, physical activity and relationships play a big role.  But one of the most significant factors in energy management is how well we sleep.

All of us are under the drive of circadian rhythms—which influence the complex relationship between our body chemistry, timing and light. (It's the reason jet lag hits us so hard.) One of the biggest things we can do to help our bodies sleep is to wake up and go to sleep at consistent times each day—even on the weekends. If sleep is a problem for us, solving our sleep schedule has to become a priority if we ever want to have the kind of energy that makes time irrelevant.

It's not about time. It's about energy.

Shifting our focus from managing time to building energy isn't just recommended, it's essential.  The thing is, deep inside we know the things that energize us and the things that drain us.

It simply takes intention to look at them.

And the courage to work it like a balance sheet to make sure we are building our energy income and eliminating the embezzlers. 

5 Ways to Become a Networking Champion (without Sounding Desperate)

Ever see those people who effortlessly network with industry leaders and potential clients and wonder how they do it?

Or maybe you just wish you had better friendships at work.

Developing more meaningful professional connections increases our relevance to the companies, organizations and industries we serve.  (And lack of connection looks a lot like Milton in Office Space being relegated to the basement clinging to his red stapler.)

The more connected we are, the more access we have to influence and information—which might just make us more valuable than our current job skills.

This post shares proven strategies for inspiring genuine engagement with the people that you meet professionally.

Be genuinely interested (or at least get good at faking it). 

Ever have a conversation where someone was looking over your shoulder to see if there was someone more important in the room? Contrast that experience with a person who seems like they really want to meet you.  Author, Sean Stephenson writes, "Connection comes into being the moment that one individual feels that another genuinely cares about him or her. As soon as this genuine caring energy is mutually experienced, the connection is reciprocated."

One of the fastest ways to create connection is to communicate caring.  Eye contact, warmth in our responses, deep listening and an open posture all prioritize the person with whom we are engaging. This is done non-verbally because walking up to someone and just saying I care about you out of the blue makes us sound like an awkward Hallmark Card.

Become aware of what you leak. 

Busyness, distraction, stress, judgment and boredom leak off of us. People can read it.

With the notable exceptions of spies and professional poker players, most of us reflect our mental and emotional states to the people we come in contact with—whether we want to or not.

It isn't enough just to put away our phone or to smile at people.  We have to have the discipline to shift our thoughts from criticism/worry to compassion/hope. Of course that can be a lifetime endeavor. A more immediate "fix" is to show up completely for the conversation we are having in order to leak attention.  Being fully present is a way to leak good stuff.

The other thing we need to leak? That we are of equal worth to the person we are speaking with.  You may have heard the term "impostor syndrome" which is where we fight feelings of inadequacy even in the face of evidence of our achievements. That insecurity can leak causing the other person to "downgrade" us in their assessment.  While fake confidence may come off as arrogance, having a positive sense of our professional value makes good business sense. It conveys that we are someone worth speaking to even if we don't share the same title or influence of the person in front of us.

Learn to ask better questions. 

We all know how annoying it is to be with someone who only talks about themselves.  We also know how hard it is to stand in front of someone at a complete loss for words.  Want to become a better conversationalist? Amp your game when it comes to asking questions.

Our brains are more interested in questions than they are with statements, and the best conversationalists know how to leverage them.  A great resource with a list of 235 questions for engaging people is the book, Power Questions by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas, but here are a few I use personally that I've found to be really effective:

  • What do you most love about what you do? 
  • What are you working on that really excites you at the moment? 
  • What is the heartbeat (or mission) of your company (or organization)? 
  • What ideas are inspiring you these days? 
  • What do you enjoy when you aren't at your day job? 

Draw them out by learning to prompt. 

Susan Murphy of Murphy Motivation coaches people in the art of  improving their business connections. She trains people to ask a single question, then to follow it up with statements that draw more out of the person sharing.  Phrases like: 
  • Tell me more. 
  • Go on. 
  • And then what happened? 
  • Could you share more about that? 
  • Why do you think that was significant?
Prompts for another person to give more information is an active listening skill and can be learned through practice. Clarifying phrases not only communicate interest, but they can also cause the person to share valuable intel. Murphy says that it takes a conscious effort to pay attention to other people. Which is valuable. It can make your career.

Express gratitude for someone else. 

Stephen Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust communicates the things we do that build trust and the things we do that tear it down.  Covey warns of the damage watercooler bad-mouthing does to our "trust bank accounts."  Why? Because everyone knows that someone who is critical of another person can easily be critical of you. It creates distrust.

On the other hand, this principle also works in reverse.  When we express gratitude for others, it not only sparks positive energy in the current conversation, it also conveys something about who we are as a person.  Verbalizing gratitude for a co-worker, industry leader—or even something more immediate like showing appreciation for the service of a waiter—engenders trust.

Engaging these connection strategies, might feel awkward at first—much like a new yoga pose—but the more we practice, the more it becomes muscle memory.  Besides...

Every career opportunity that comes our way will be through a human connection.  (tweet this)

So pick just one of these methods and put it in practice. It will help you make more meaningful connections which can benefit your career and increase your value.

Ready to Get Rid of the Soul-Sucking Vibe in Your Cubicle?

Does seeing your desk chair every day make your spirit sink just a little?

Ever stand in the doorway and think..."ugh, I just don't want to be here."

Or maybe you just grin and bear it while you wait for your "real life" to start at 5:30 pm.

This post has seven ideas to give energy to your workspace and kick the "soul sucking" vibe to the curb.

Admit you aren't going to do it.

You know that last inch of papers on the bottom of that stack? Toss them. If any of the things in the pile were a priority, they would already be dealt with. Those trade magazines that you are never going to actually read? Recycle them. The handouts from that workshop you attended six months ago? You already have the value from the training inside of you. Let them go.

Sometimes we just have to be honest with ourselves that certain things are not going to get done. Rather than letting them age in place, make a decision and let it go now. As long as those things are sitting there, they are silently taunting you with their undone-ness.  When you release the items you release the tasks, and it makes the space feel better.

If you don't have sunlight, fake it. 

Not only is natural light healthy for our bodies, but it can also make us feel more positive, and has been shown to increase workplace productivity. A study by the Lighting Research Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, indicates that daylight strengthens sales in retail stores because it elevates buyers' moods. (And if it elevates buyers' moods, it can elevate yours too.)

Add a lamp with a natural daylight bulb to your desk or—better yet—see if you can get building maintenance to swap the flourescents over your desk to full spectrum daylight bulbs.

Add a plant

Houseplants not only clean the air, but we respond to them psychologically. Treehugger.com reports that a number of studies with workers show that studying or working in the presence of plants can have a pretty dramatic effect. As with simply being in nature, being around plants improves concentration, memory and productivity. Being 'under the influence of plants' can increase memory retention up to 20 percent, according to a University of Michigan study.

Indoor plants that are easy to care for include golden pothos, spider plants, jade plants,
diffenbachia, and English ivy. Need lower maintenance? Try air plants. As the name implies, all they need to thrive is air and they do well in limited sunlight. 

Get real dishes

Seriously, is there anything more depressing than the beige tray of a microwave meal? Get a real plate, fork and spoon to keep tucked away in a desk drawer and have an actual meal. (Even if it is just a Lean Cuisine transferred.) 

Want to take it up a notch? Consider getting a tea or matcha set. Preparing tea has a ritual to it and can invite you to take a legitimate break.

Simplify visual lines

Sometimes just clearing the visual landscape can bring a sense of calm to your space. Have a stapler you rarely use? Consider relocating it to a work room. Too many tchotchkes from trade shows? Donate them. A sea of dusty pictures? Clear the frames and set your favorite photo as your computer desktop.

Having clean flat surfaces gives our brains less to process.  It also creates spaces to work.

Change the way the space smells. 

Diffusers can be a problem at the office because the scent might be unwelcome in an adjacent space where they like their soul-sucking vibe. But a cotton ball, felt square or small pendant can hold one or two drops of an essential oil to lift vibration in a small area.

Citrus oils are cheerful. Rosemary can prevent migraines. Lavender relieves stress. And earthy scents like cedar or patchouli can be grounding.

Improve the soundscape.

We've all experienced how music can impact our mood, but did you know that it can improve your concentration? Up to 400%? Focus@Will is a subscription music service with soundtracks designed to boost concentration. And Hipstersound can make your cubicle feel like your favorite coffee shop for the price of an app. But even if you don't use a music service, simply being intentional about using our headphones to create a peaceful or energetic vibe can change the way we feel about our space.

The thing is that while there is an awful lot we can't control about our workspaces, there is a lot we can.  And if small changes aren't enough to make your eight hours a day better? Well, it may be time to look for a better job altogether.  One that is life-giving. 
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