This month’s missive is response to a friend who was struggling with his work situation. Republished with permission and a few additions.
Change Your Circumstances
The gist of my friend’s concern was this:
Do you have techniques for dealing with burnout, overwhelm, task paralysis, lack of motivation, executive dysfunction? I could use some mental tools.
Here’s what I responded at the time of the request:
If changing employment isn’t an option, my best choices for keeping my job interesting include:
- Requesting a shift to multi-department project work if such is available and I don’t have it at present.
- If I AM on project work, I seek out tasks within my primary reporting group so that I feel productive in a new way.
- If I’m stuck where I am with no relief in sight, I make certain that I have a project outside of work where I can pour my energy.
- If the work situation becomes untenable, I eventually settle for candor, explain my concerns to my immediate supervisor and ask if s/he can do something to reduce the operational angst.
The other thing I suggested to my friend was to consult with a professional coach and cited one in particular I’ve trusted.
Thoughts After the Fact: Do Inside and External Work
The reality is that we make our own motivation. Occasionally we strive to find one good thing to focus on–our spouse, our kids, our family, our personal projects or causes–to stay focused, renew our personal energy levels, and take on whatever obstacles are facing us in our job. You might, in fact, like your job but face obstacles anyhow.
Some workplace dysfunctions are systemic, from the top down or the bottom up. Sometimes they’re the result of a bad team leader or teammates who are not suited to the roles that they’re filling. Sometimes there is a lack of information sharing within the organization. Sometimes the dysfunction is just the result of a broke process that can be fixed easily with a bit of creativity and cooperation.
As usual, the Heroic Technical Writing questions are character focused:
- What can you do to improve your own attitude toward the situation to make it more bearable? (Inside work)
- What can you do or say that could address the bad processes or bad behavior? (External work)
You know what your limits are, what you will tolerate, and what you will not. You also should know what keeps you motivated. Each of us has our own set of ideas (personal ideology, if you like) for making sense of the world and staying motivated. You can tap into those ideas and keep yourself motivated that way or focus on the quality of your work because you care about what you do or who you do it for. Or you might not be able to do either. Maybe you need to pay more attention to things outside of work so that you feel you have something going right in your life. The focus of inside work is to ask yourself what you might be doing to contribute to the work situation, what you might do to improve your personal happiness, and then be willing to change those things.
Unless you’re the CEO (in which case you have a bigger problem because you own the dysfunction), you likely can’t fire the boss. If there are specific processes, practices, or behaviors happening around you that you have some say in how they are conducted, you need to take action within the span of your control. Talk to the right people, make suggestions for improvements, implement them, and model the appropriate behavior so that others see that you’re serious about improving things.
If you’ve made a good-faith effort, inside and out, and the workplace remains the same nest of dysfunction, then you might need to consider the list I suggested to my friend above. Once you’ve done all that you can and seen no improvements, it seems to me you can move on with a clear conscience and seek out an organization that reflects your values and values you for what you contribute.