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An email marked ‘Urgent!’ at ten to midnight from your boss, leaving you so stressed you don’t get a good night’s sleep. The following morning you are greeted at work with the words, ‘It is not good enough that you only got back to my message at 8:40 this morning.’

A job that has suddenly expanded to your having to cover European as well as North American clients, with zero consideration given for the havoc this timezone crucifixion must play with your schedule and family life.

A feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach as you head in to work each day. You love the actual work part of your job, but your manager is a petty tyrant who seems to get off on playing ‘Gotcha’ with you.

A workplace culture where ‘Our way or the highway’ seems to be the unofficial mantra, even as your organisation talks up the importance of respect and wellbeing at work.

[Photo credit: Alex Kotliarskyi]

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a strong believer in taking ownership as far as possible of the causes and aggravators of career unhappiness. But let’s call a spade a spade here: sometimes you really aren’t the problem. Recent years have seen a growth, in certain sectors, of a certain type of employer just turning the screws relentlessly on employees.

I have worked with a great many employers and middle-managers as well as employees. Good employers and managers—and there are very many of them out there—know better than to treat their employees poorly. They don’t put up with nonsense, but nor do they pull it. They take a longer view of the relationship than ‘Let’s boot camp everyone into maximum efficiency.’ They understand that authentic dynamism in the workplace needs to be organic, requiring the insights and buy-in of employees. They are not under the illusion that even an attractive salary package can compensate for extreme stress or a feeling of having one’s time and energies taken utterly for granted.

So: what to do if you find yourself in the kind of unhappy situation described in the opening lines of this post?

My advice is always the same: diagnose exactly what is causing the problem, and then—if you’re absolutely sure there is nothing you can do to change the unhappy dynamic itself—find the movement on your shoulder that you’ll need to fix your situation.

But beware of hasty generalisations you might find yourself making.

Here’s the most common one: ‘I hate my job.’

Well, maybe so, but maybe not. What exactly is it that is not working for you here? Is it the role itself, or is it the role as experienced in this organisation, or in this part of this organisation?

It’s a cardinal distinction, one that can save you from making a big mistake. Again and again I’ve seen clients who, equipped with this distinction, have immediately understood what needed to happen: managed exit from the current organisation (or the current section within the organisation), but not from the role itself. They simply needed to jump ship—not into the water, but into a different ship requiring the same skills from them.

Another way of putting this would be to say that examining your situation may show you that the problem is not so much your ‘text’ (your role) as the current ‘context’ (organisation) in which is is being written. So… find yourself a new context without having to rewrite your text—or start a new text from scratch.



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