When Your Job and Career Stops Working For You…Now What?

Your workplace and job may be changing but not in the ways you had hoped.

Many organizations today are going through multiple changes as a result of the changes in the economy, market place and increased use of technology.

Changes may include new management, a new immediate supervisor, changing computer systems, changes in policies and procedures or changes in the buildings where you work.

The organization you work in may be expanding, downsizing, restructuring, laying people off or merging with other organizations. It may be difficult to go to work everyday and do your job effectively when so much uncertainty looms on the horizon.

You have probably heard that change is the norm and that everyone must learn to accept and adapt to change in the workplace. However, some organization researchers suggest that possibly only about a third of the changes that happen in any given organization are necessary or worthwhile. 

Another third of the changes occurring in the organization may be unnecessary or don’t really add value to the organization. It is also fair to assume another third may actually be detrimental to the organization, in terms of unintended consequences or how it impacts the bottom-line and the people doing the actual work.

The main point is that we are stuck with all of these changes which are stressful for people working in organizations to the point where it can begin to affect their overall work performance, as well as, their physical and mental health.

If you feel distressed and are worried about whether you will continue to have a job you are not alone. Often, the above changes in organizations contribute to some people being laid off or terminated and some choosing to leave or retire. Most of the time, people who leave are not replaced. Fewer people in the organization means work that others used to do gets redistributed to those still working. 

In most situations the increased workload does not mean a change in job classification or more compensation. It does mean an increased workload and more stressors as people try to keep up. 

In addition, if you are going through personal problems such as financial difficulties, marital problems, divorce, family issues, child difficulties, medical or other problems; it may become even more problematic coping with changes at work. 

The personal life stressors will combine with your work stressors, making it more challenging to function productively in doing your job. Not only will people’s work performance decline; their mood and health may start declining resulting in calling in sick, taking more personal time or even taking a medical leave if they find they can not go to work and unction effectively.

It is ironic that even though organizations are aware of having less people to do the same or an increased amount of work, if people’s work performance starts slipping; the former is often not acknowledged. Instead, people who had previously had a good work performance record can find they are having to meet their supervisor about why they are not able to keep up with their work.

While workloads can change, so can the actual work people are doing. People may find the additional or new work not something they like or are good at. Learning new work procedures or how to use a new system can be challenging and frustrating especially with the pressure of needing to keep your job.

The Gallup organization in research with organizations found that there are twelve significant contributing factors in the workplace conducive to people being engaged, productive and staying with an employer. Almost half of them relate to the degree of connection, value and appreciation employees feel at work.

People who used to like most aspects of their job and did their job well may find themselves struggling to do something they don’t like or are not very good at. As a result, their engagement, work performance and satisfaction with the work goes down as well. 

Instead of feeling accepted and valued for the work they did; they now feel demoralized and devalued with the work they are doing. Feeling valued and appreciated for the work you do is an important factor in whether a person has enough satisfaction in their work to want to stay and do a good job.

Another significant problem for people that can contribute to their job not working for them can be a difficult relationship with their immediate supervisor or manager. This may be the result of their work performance becoming more of a problem, difficulty in communicating and understanding the expectations of their manager or just real differences between themselves and their manager that seem difficult to bridge.

Research by the Gallup Organization indicates the primary factor in whether a person will stay with an organization or leave depends on the kind of relationship they have with their immediate supervisor or manager.

Here are some factors that may indicate a problematic relationship between an employee and an immediate supervisor or manager: 

  • If they don’t like their supervisor or the supervisor doesn’t like them.
  • If there continues to be conflict or friction between supervisor and employee.
  • If they don’t comply with everything their supervisor wants even if their supervisor is uninformed or wrong.
  • If the supervisor’s perception is they don’t fit in with the organization’s culture or the supervisor’s favored group.
  • If the supervisor feels his or her authority is being challenged or they feel threatened by the employee’s knowledge, experience or ability to do a really good job or get along well with people.
  • If the employee, despite good work performance is being harassed, abused undermined, or set-up to be written up or if the supervisor seems invested in making a case against the employee when it is not warranted.
  • If the supervisor is creating a hostile work environment by lying, exaggerating, creating drama and division between employees and then blaming or retaliating against employees if they challenge the supervisor or complain to others higher in management.
  • If the supervisor’s leadership style and practices violate common sense and good management practices or behaves in inappropriate ways with respect to people’s boundaries.

Most large organizations do provide access to Employee Assistance Programs that make it possible for you to begin to talk confidentially with a counselor on a limited basis if something problematic comes up at work. 

This can be a place to start talking about what is bothering you in your work situation. They can also refer you to a clinical therapist in your area where you can talk more in depth about your job situations and begin to consider options.

Keep in mind that Employee Assistance Program counselors have little or no influence with management to make changes that might improve your situation. This is especially true if you happen to have a supervisor or manager who is engaging in some of the behaviors mentioned above.

You can also talk with someone in Human Resources and while they may listen they also have little or no influence in making changes to improve your situation. They will be most responsive in enforcing the organization’s policies and procedures, dealing with benefits, risk management situations involving sexual harassment or discrimination or other legal infractions. 

In my experience, Human Resources tend to support supervisors and managers in any disputes between management and employees unless their has been a significant tangible mistake. 

In addition, if you have a problematic supervisor and you complain to Human Resources that information may be shared with your supervisor which means you may risk further harassment or retaliation from your supervisor or others in the organization. There are exceptions to this but you need to consider possible repercussions.

In organizations without an employee Union there can be a grievance procedure available for employees to pursue but keep in mind this does not really involve “due process” like in legal matters in the courts. Depending on the organization’s culture and managers involved this may be a fair or biased process in favor of managers.

The important thing is if you are feeling increased stressors at work and home that you start talking with someone about it so you may begin to problem solve and improve your coping strategies.

Consider if it may be useful to talk with your supervisor about your concerns or in getting help in dealing with the increased workload or other changes at work. If not talk to the Employee Assistance Program counselor or see a therapist to consider other options.

You might want to assess what you can do at work to better cope. Would it help if you make sure to take breaks during the day, getting away from your desk. Would eating lunch somewhere other than your desk or maybe going for a walk at lunch time help you cope better with the stressors.

It is important to consider what you might do outside of work that would help improve your mood and lessen your worry and anxiety. Regular physical activity or exercise can help improve your mood and help reduce anxiety….walking, running, riding a bicycle, swimming, jumping rope, using work out videos will make a difference.

Recreation and socializing more when you are not at work can help. Make sure you get enough sleep and avoid using alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other drugs on a regular basis. This may make you feel better for small amount of time but actually will make things worse the more you use on a regular basis.

It is also a good idea to do a kind of inventory with respect to what you do at your job, what you like/don’t like and how much of it is overall is a good job/career fit. In other words, to what degree is your current job meeting your expectations and criteria? 

If it is not, and obviously some criteria are more valued than others, are there other jobs within your current organization that you may be qualified for or could apply for when they become available? Start working on updating your resume so you will be ready to apply if you see an appealing job posting. 

If possible consider your network within the organization and approach key contacts to get their advice or to let them know you are interesting in moving and see if they are willing to keep you in mind for jobs or know other people you might network with. 

If you have been with your current employer for some time and with exception of your current job difficulties; it generally has met a lot of your criteria or you have too much time invested to leave the organization in terms of seniority or pension then you will want to stay.

If not, you may want to look for other job opportunities at other organizations. However, you need to be clear about what your job/career criteria is and be looking to find a better job/career fit. 

Don’t let your frustration turn into desperation and be looking to take any job to get out of your current situation. Even if you don’t want to leave your current organization, it is a good idea to look to see what other options are out there with other organizations.

Many people are pessimistic about a job search given the state of the economy but may be surprised to find there are other options out there which can be very empowering even if you don’t want to pursue them.

I often see people compounding their personal, as well as job and career problems by trying to ignore them or hope things will improve on their own. 

Usually, what happens is their situation becomes more and more intolerable contributing to coping in problematic ways by calling in sick more, performing poorly at work, using drugs or alcohol, overeating, spending money excessively, gambling, having affairs or doing other self defeating behaviors to try to feel better. 

It is usually better to face and assess your current reality so you can begin to identify and work toward solutions that will improve your life.

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