Quit Already

Toxic

I’ve met a lot of great people during my journey as a coach. The lion’s share of these individuals possessed great ability and solid credentials. Above all — I feel they possessed a sincere passion for their work.  But, there was only one glaring problem. Most of them held a really bad job. These roles may not have been bad for another individual. However, the match was undoubtedly the wrong one for them.

This is usually the point where we would cross paths — a moment in their career when they were intensely unhappy at work.

Sometimes this presented as an entire department or team. Either the group was grossly under-performing, secretly plotting their exit, or half of them had already walked out the door.  The jobs these individuals held had often led to feelings of anger, bewilderment, disappointment, stress — and in some cases, despair.

No matter how far they had traveled in life, what institution they had attended, industry or personality — the stories are strikingly similar.

Work just wasn’t what it should be, or could be.

It is highly unfortunate. As a coach— this is the normal state of affairs. I rarely interview happy potential clients. I want that to stop. Now.

Of course, the state of today’s organizations plays a role in this dynamic. Certain elements of work life have evolved over time — and the social contract that once allowed us to count on longer-term employment, has been replaced by a quite a different scenario. The economy has made for some unusual job-person mismatches.

However, we are right in the thick of it all. We contribute to the malaise, because we succumb and feel immobilized.

Back in the 90’s there was a long-running television sitcom called Murphy Brown. The name sake of the show, Ms. Brown (played brilliantly by Candace Bergen) was a high-flying, highly opinionated, hot-tempered news reporter — whose over-riding style was to “kick butt and take names”. She was beautiful, witty and well-spoken. However, Ms. Brown also had a penchant for burning through assistants (during the course of the series she had 93 of them). She was, by most standards, a really lousy boss. For most of us, this situation would have been impossible to navigate. She was completely impossible to work for, and this element was a running (and highly entertaining) sub-plot of the show.

However, the really peculiar thing about all of this, was that even though her reputation preceded her — another assistant always appeared outside of her office on Monday morning. (On some level that bothered me. In the real world, I’d like to think that we would have known better.)

Inevitably, we don’t always see the signs of a poor fit. When we do see things for what they are — we’re just not sure how to act. Then work life can develop into what someone aptly described to me, as a “soul sucking” experience.

Each time I connect with a new client, I marvel at how great people have such negative experiences in the workplace. I’ve not only come to the conclusion that there are a lot mismatches out there. I have also come to realize that we play a role in this dynamic. We don’t craft the rules, but we insist on playing by the rules. I fear this can be quite dangerous.

In many cases, even though we are suffering, we feel the need to seek permission to move on. That’s the role I often seem to play. I offer permission to be happy at work. But, we can offer that to ourselves.

As they say, “You’ve had the power all along”.

It can be difficult to explain how these work life scenarios have evolved. We know that recruitment and selection aren’t perfect processes — this is a given. In many cases, we have a clue that things are not right. We may have been hopeful that we could master the situation, or that things would miraculously resolve. But in many cases, this doesn’t happen. As a result, we remain stuck and unhappy.

Many of us do not think it is even possible to claim a better work life. I’d like to think we can change that dynamic.

So let’s at least try.

Have you ever been stuck? What caused you to finally act?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.  She is also an Influencer at Linkedin.

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More Options for Today’s Working Women: Leaning “Homeward” vs Leaning “In”

Work life balance

Many women would opt for time away from the traditional “9 to 5” work life to remain home with children — and a growing body of research supports this.  I reached this inflection point a short time after finishing my degree. Happily entrenched in a growing HR consulting firm (with a fair amount of career momentum on my side), it became obvious that my best laid plans for melding home and work life weren’t going to materialize. At the time, my decision to “lean out” may have appeared ill-advised — but as time would pass, it became clear that it was truly for the best.

Our young son didn’t sleep nights. He couldn’t tolerate formula. He seemed particularly distressed when we left him with a sitter for even a few hours. When I compared stories with other working mothers, things just weren’t adding up to a “lean in” scenario. The guilt and compounding stress were overpowering. I was torn between two disparate worlds that just weren’t meshing. My instincts told me to stay at home if at all possible. Luckily, after weighing both emotional and financial concerns, the option to complete some project work at home came into play. I happily chose this option — too exhausted in the moment to even begin to evaluate the long-term ramifications of that decision.

Knowing what I know today about work life integration, I would have sought a more permanent part-time solution (with an option to return when home life became more predictable). A recent article in The Atlantic, Moms Who Cut Back at Work Are Happier, explores the often difficult quest for women to find balance with their ever-evolving roles. The piece discusses research which reveals that many married moms would indeed, rather work part-time at specific points or “seasons” in their career — “leaning homeward” instead of “leaning in”. Furthermore, many who have the opportunity to embark on such a career “sacrifice” are happier overall. A recent CBS/New York Times survey echoes this sentiment, where it was found that nearly one-half of working women with children under the age of 18, would prefer an option to work part-time.

The fact remains, that it is challenging for many women to carry on their careers after children, as if nothing has changed. Dialing down the pressure should be a viable option — but keeping meaningful work in plain sight should also be part of that equation. With women making a significant investment in both their education and career, this has become a growing necessity — as we should have the opportunity to continue to contribute in a manner that remains fulfilling.

We are indeed making progress in this area. However, widespread acceptance of part-time options will likely not materialize until we acknowledge the need for a pervasive change in mindset. If you have had the opportunity to read, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter — you’d know exactly where I am going with this. We have to step up and vocalize what we really need to remain both happy and productive. With a healthy dose of transparency, these changes may come sooner than later. We  should discuss the realities of melding work and career life, openly and often — because the essence of being truly happy at work, might lie just as much in being honest about what we cannot do — as much as what we can.

Suffice it to say, that my instinct to remain at home was on target. I needed to be there for a variety of reasons. Years later, it is apparent that I’ve had a fair amount of explaining to do in reference to the gap in my career. However of late, I no longer feel the need to either hide the reason — or the fact that I did so without hesitation.

I would like to think that in the future — working women won’t have to make these decisions bleary-eyed and exhausted.

Have you shared a similar experience? Were you able to adjust and work part-time? Share your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

Considering a Change in Direction? How to Deal with Those “Haters”

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Career growth can be both an exhausting and exhilarating experience. Most likely, you are dealing with an internal struggle — ultimately realizing that a change was necessary. Then, there is the commitment (and sacrifice) to ensure that real change occurs. (You may be juggling coursework, seeking stretch assignments or blazing an entirely new trail.) We do expect that the process will be challenging. However, in many cases, the most surprising aspect of career evolution are those around us who just don’t seem to get on-board. In fact, they can be down right negative. Already outside of your comfort zone — it can be difficult to squelch all of the “nay-saying” from those around you.

How do you handle individuals who are — shall I say — less than supportive?

Whatever your goal; a promotion, a pivot, entering a new “side path” — there will be those who will not initially lend you support. There may be off-handed remarks, a jab at your dream and those who will only point to the many obstacles that might come your way. It is always shocking when this occurs. However, you can avoid some of the negative fallout.

You can’t change others. However, you can change how you view them. Consider these points:

  • Some people just don’t see your vision. Explaining a point in your life where you seem to be flinging yourself toward shaky ground, can seem frightening to some. Remember that you are living it. Only you truly understand why you need to do this.
  • Jealousy does exist. Career bravery on your part — can sometimes elicit a note of envy from others. Watching you make progress can be hard to digest for some.
  • Negativity is ubiquitous. There are many people who are unhappy with their own role,  but they may not be poised to make changes. (Just take a look at current engagement figures.) A lot of people might be feeling stuck, but don’t let their malaise rule your life.
  • Some people are just plain mean. Shocking, but true. There are individuals who just do not know how to play nice. Ignore them. It’s the only way.

What to do next:

  • Consider their feedback. Try to take the stance that all feedback is useful. Listen to all that is said and process the information carefully — there may be something to learn there.
  • Plan your re-brand “roll out” Any re-branding takes a fair bit of planning — and a career shift is certainly that. Others have to get used to the idea. Start small (join a new team, hold a lunch-time brown bag) before you make larger strides. Those around you will start to get the idea and associate you with the new direction.
  • Keep on explaining. Your career vision may require quite a bit of explanation. Many people won’t be prepared or  familiar with what you might be trying to accomplish. A little education will go a long way. So craft a conversation or “elevator pitch” that nicely explains where you are headed.
  • Tell them what you need. Just as Don Draper expresses in Mad Men — “Change the conversation” and their solicit support. If they seem to doubt you, let them know the journey is challenging and their help is integral. (Start by soliciting a couple of names for networking purposes.)
  • Give up. In some cases, you need to simply ignore the negativity and move on. Ultimately, this journey is yours.

Have you ever met resistance when you were venturing onto a new career path.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

Joy at Work: How about a little “Arbejdsglæde”?

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In response to a post about positivity in the workplace, a very kind reader (Casper P.) let me know that in his language, a very unique word existed. The word was “Arbejdsglæde” — translated into English this means “happiness at work” or “work joy”. Here is his comment:

Scandinavian countries have a single word for “Happiness at work” — Arbejdsglæde. This site posted a great video on why we need more of it: http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com

If only we could only bring more Arbejdsglæde into our work lives on a daily basis. Arbejdsglæde is the positive feeling that develops when you simply love what you do. It stokes motivation and serves as an reliable source of energy. In turn, the work brings a keen sense of satisfaction. Of course, this is something we should all readily seek — and a bit of joy may be exactly what we need to affect the troubling lack of engagement in the workplace today. More joy at work? As a psychologist, that is something that I can certainly live with.

Here is an example of Arbejdsglæde in action — the moment the rover Curiosity lands on Mars. (More great videos at http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com)


Ultimately, joy and work should co-exist — but we have been resistant to offer ourselves permission to seek this out. In her HBR post Joy at Work: It’s Your Right, Allison Rimm describes how she has utilized a joy meter in her coaching practice. When clients would enter for a session, they would rate the level of joy (vs. hassle) they were currently feeling from their work. The underlying premise? We all should derive some measure of joy from our work.

We might encourage joy at work through the expression of gratitude, developing hope and encouraging camaraderie. But we can also grow joy, by aligning our work with our strengths — and learning to express what we really need to derive satisfaction from our work.

So, let’s bring a more joy to our workplaces — ourselves, our clients  and our colleagues.

It’s a good thing.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

What’s the Status of Your Psychological Capital?

Happy at workYou can read the research – or you might simply feel it in your gut. With some essential workplace issues, it really doesn’t matter how you discovered the concept – it’s opening the door and letting it in that matters. This seems to be the consensus on workplace positivity.

Maybe, it’s a sign of the times –  realizing that we cannot do our best work if we feel undervalued or hopeless. Many of us simply would like to feel more positive about our daily work lives.

So how do we accomplish this?

Well, we have some interesting clues from a key group of researchers (Luthans, et al. 2006), who have been investigating the application of positivity to the workplace. They have discovered that we might need to focus on the strength of our “Psychological Capital” (PsyCap). Psychological capital, is a second-order construct, composed of 4 key “psychological resources” that we access to cope with the challenges of our work lives.  (They are as follows – HERO for short.)

  • Hope. A belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find the methods or paths to reach them.
  • Efficacy. The confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes.
  • Resilience. The ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure.
  • Optimism. A generally positive view of work and the potential of success.

You can read more about Psychological Capital in a recent LinkedIn post, “Why Positivity is So Essential in the Workplace.”

What do you think? Does positivity have a role in the workplace?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. She also writes for Talent Zoo and Linkedin.

Monday, Monday: Why Doing What You Love Can Make Tomorrow Better

Monday Blues

Do you spend Sundays ruminating about how you’d like to avoid Mondays? According to Gallup, that transition won’t be nearly as traumatic if you report feeling engaged with your work. We are all recognizing the power of employee engagement in organizations today – and it seems this construct is likely related to a host of other relevant variables, including your mood.

Gallup measured the progression of specific emotions during the course of  our work week – with survey participants reporting their attitudes on a variety of topics including feelings of happiness, anger and stress. Not surprisingly, those who identified as “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” reported more negative responses, which subtly evolved during the course of a work week.  The data held some fascinating findings.

Some examples:

  • Happiness. There is an obvious difference in experiences of reported “happiness” – where those with lower levels of engagement, were less likely to report it. (For some reason this discrepancy peaked on Tuesdays for those identified as “actively disengaged”.)
  • Smiling and laughing. You guessed it! Those that reported feeling engaged at work, also reported smiling and laughing more. Just over 65% of “actively disengaged” respondents reported smiling and laughing “a lot” (on Tuesday), as compared to 90.7% of those reporting themselves as “engaged”.
  • Stress. Although all respondents were more likely to report higher levels of stress on Monday, as compared to Sunday, those reporting lower levels of engagement seem to be more susceptible. (Reported stress dipped a bit on Fridays, for all respondents.)
  • Anger. Those who reported feeling disengaged, were more likely to report feelings of anger. On Tuesdays, for example, more than one-quarter of those defined as “actively disengaged” reported experiences of anger the previous day, in comparison to 9.2% of those identified as “engaged”.

Engagement is continuing to emerge as a key workplace challenge in the evolution of work  – and more focus on this area will certainly follow. What helps you feel engaged at work? Tell us your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

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Mentors and Getting Closer to Our “Real”

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This morning as I drank my coffee, I listened to Eddie Vedder singing “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town”. It is a haunting melody about life and thoughts and the passage of time. As my husband passed by, the music caught his attention.

“Who’s singing?”, he asked. “Pearl Jam”, I said. “I thought that was Eddie Vedder”, he replied. “Such a great vocalist, it’s a shame he is so studioized.”

Of course, he was joking — as Vedder was essentially performing alone with his guitar. But this led me to think about how we present ourselves everyday in the workplace. Are we “studioized”? With all of the talk about authenticity and transparency, are we really “real”? How does this affect our forward progress?

In the course of my work, I concentrate on the stories of work life and career. Of course I believe that work is an integral component of an individual’s life, but the process of finding the best path is often wrought with challenges and emotions. However, when you get to the core of it all, work is all about reaching your potential and hoping to find a bit of fulfillment there. In my opinion, the best part of work — is when the “real” you is at the root of success.

How do we become a closer representation of our “real” selves at work? This seems like a complicated question — yet it might be surprisingly simple to answer; Admit to being human and find a guide. Seek a mentor — an advocate — a sounding board. An individual that will help you explore both your strengths and weaknesses, and inch closer to that “real” you.

I am a great believer in mentoring. Mentoring can open our minds and envision who we can be, and what we can accomplish.

So, I recommend looking for that mentor with great conviction. Use all of the tools available to you, to find that individual. Expose them to the individual you would really like to become at work. Learn to listen to the inner voice that directs you to points unknown, and explore those thoughts with a mentor. Through this process, we might learn to trust, our single, toughest critic — ourselves.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.