Last week my blog was an interview with a friend who was complaining about becoming a grumpy old man due to the increasing demands and expectations put on him by his employer. This is a pretty common phenomenon for a lot of people these days as companies cut costs and run lean, expecting their existing employees take on more responsibility. So, what do you do if you’re in such a situation? How do you stay motivated, upbeat, and positive and avoid becoming a “grumpy old man/woman” as my friend claims he’s becoming? Well, every situation is unique and there are no easy answers. However, I do have some thoughts that might be helpful if you’re in this situation.
- Don’t go victim. A victim hates what is happening but also feels powerless to do anything about it. In truth, victim is a mentality more than reality. The reason is that we always have choices. Sometimes it doesn’t seem we have any good choices but we do have choices. Recognizing this helps you reclaim your power. You can begin to think about how you can change your thinking or what actions you can take to alter or improve a situation. So begin this process by making a list of all the choices you have, anything that comes to mind. Just doing this my help you feel less burdened.
- Focus on the good you’re doing. Even if you’re not hearing it from your boss or higher-ups, it helps to recognize the difference your work makes to your customers, fellow employees, your family, company, perhaps even community. Someone, actually lots of folks, are benefiting from your efforts. You can feel more positive as you focus on the contributions and benefits of what you’re doing rather than negatives about your situation. Make a list of the positive contribution you’re making on the job. It won’t change the circumstance but may help you feel better about your efforts.
- Become a learner. Take responsibility for your long-term career success by thinking about what new knowledge or skills you would either enjoy learning or which would make you more valuable in the future, if not with your current employer then another. You don’t have to wait for your boss or company to encourage you to develop new skills. You can learn them on your own and in that way find ways to stay interested or engaged in your job. You can do this by studying topics on the internet, reading a few books on a subject, taking an online course from a learning platform or attending a public seminar or workshop. I recommend Steve Churchill’s book entitled How to Learn Higher Paying Skills to know how to take responsibility for improving your job skills. He also has a video course, How to Find Better Work Faster, which offers real-world insights and tips for finding your next job. These are great resources I highly recommend.
- Speak up to your boss. Let him/her know of the pressure you’re under as well as how you feel about it. He/she likely knows and may be in a similar boat, but don’t let that keep you from speaking up. (After all, you’re not responsible for his/her choices.) Have an honest conversation about expectations. “I want to be a contributor, however I cannot get everything done that is currently on my plate. Can you help me prioritize?” Be willing to talk about your needs and personal boundaries. “I need to be home by such and such a time on these nights.” “I can only get this much done.” “I’m coming to you because I want to be a positive contributor but also recognize that it is impossible to get all of this done by such and such a date. I’d rather be honest than play games with you.” Push back, respectfully, trusting that you can influence the process if you remain both positive and assertive. Speak up about fair workloads, compensation, and even the need to reevaluate your job title and employment contract if necessary. It feels risky to be assertive but doing so is taking responsibility for yourself and demonstrates leadership. You’ll not only be making yourself a more valuable employee but letting them know that how you’re treated is negotiated and not mandated.
- Clarify your goals and priorities. You have to admit that you can’t do everything equally well and when you try to do too much everything suffers. So be clear about your most important (non-negotiable) work? What is next? And so on. When we feel pressured we have a tendency to give everything equal priority and so lose our effectiveness. You have to know what is most important and then schedule your time and activities to reflect this and be willing to let go of the less important goals.
- Use good time management skills. Being busy is not the same as being productive. You can only be productive if you schedule your time to work on your most important goals and agenda. Take responsibility for your goals by planning your day, limiting how often you look at email, blocking chunks of time for the important but not urgent tasks (fixing a process, coaching an employee), confining administrivia and returning phone calls to certain times of the day, and so on. Most of us could be more productive but it requires that we be dogged about planning our work and then honoring the boundaries we put around our agenda.
- Take care of yourself outside of work hours. Make sure that you have activities that are fun or fulfilling so your entire world doesn’t revolve around work. Find balance through hobbies, relationships, and spiritual practices that bring you pleasure and renew your spirit. Remember that balance includes exercise and routines such as yoga or meditation.
- Be willing to look for other opportunities. It isn’t easy to leave a job but you need to always know that it’s an option. The good news is that the job market is improving in North America and companies are starting to hire more employees. Know what opportunities are out there. Dust off your resume and talk to your network. And, in addition to considering a new employer, think about how you might be able to contract out your skills to others.
These eight points are not a comprehensive list. But, hopefully, they can prompt you to explore options, whether behavioral or attitudinal, and come up with a plan that will feel better than the status quo. Let the rest of us know what ideas you have. What have you done or thought about doing better your situation? Remember that the more you wait for “out there” to change the more you give away your personal power and the more discouraged and cynical you will become.