I had coffee with an acquaintance who also is a therapist. She was sharing how she sees more and more clients who are stuck in their work and how their inability to leave causes them to go into survival mode, resentfully counting the days until retirement. This stress of feeling stuck professionally wreaks havoc in many other areas of their lives, including physical and emotional well being and the ability to foster and maintain fulfilling relationships. Living in survival mode causes them to come up with strategies to cope, many of which may be considered passive aggressive or manipulative.
She communicated that she as the therapist is also feeling stuck with these particular clients because short of leaving their jobs, there aren’t many options. And for some of the reasons mentioned below, leaving isn’t an option. So instead, their therapy focuses on the relationship or health issues that are simply manifestations of the core issue: unhappiness in the workplace.
In the self-help guru world we might say, “It is time to create your best life” or “Be brave enough to manifest what you want” or “Just walk away and start that beach glass jewelry business you’ve always dreamed of.” And for some people, that is an amazing solution. For others straddled with college loans, for one-income families with children who must be clothed and fed, for families dependent on the company health insurance for a family member who is ill, or for a family with a mortgage payment that must be covered, walking isn’t an option. For others having expertise in a narrow field, walking away means years of service that will be lost, forfeited retirement benefits, the loss of union protection, or entry into a job search process rife with fear of age discrimination. These are just a few of the reasons that bind us to work environments that strip us of creativity, passion, purpose, and mental and emotional health.
My friend is a fantastic therapist with many degrees and advanced study. She loves her work, and her clients have great success. This is a newer phenomenon and one she fears is not going away.
Why is this phenomenon important?
Companies and organizations that come to me to help their leaders improve, think that they are asking for basic leadership skill development: things like how do you run meetings effectively, how do you give feedback, how do you hold people accountable. Those are valuable skills, and they are skills that I cover. But as I spend time and dig a bit deeper, what becomes clear is that many leaders are completely oblivious about how their own insecurities and fears directly impact their teams. This is especially true when fears and insecurities remain unspoken or when leaders try to mask their existence.
Working with leaders to help them build concrete skills, as well as to understand how they show up, is critical work that I love to do.
But what if even one person on their on team is feeling trapped or stuck? How do we move that energy without moving that person out?
It has become clear to me that this is the next level of work that is waiting to be unearthed. Coincidentally, I’ve been asked to develop a program similar to my work with leaders for non-management employees at a large organization.
My premise is that when non-management-level employees become educated about how their thinking patterns and triggers create behavior patterns that don’t serve them well and they are provided with training, support, and a safe environment to practice new behaviors, they will become re-energized about their work. When employees are feeling powerless or victimized (by their own lives or by the confinements of their jobs) they spend their time and energy dreaming of retiring, feeling unhealthy, doing the minimum, and seeking evidence that their victim story is true. It is these behavior patterns that ultimately lead to drama and conflict in the workplace.
For all organizations (companies, schools, nonprofits, etc.), wages and benefits are the single highest expense. Add in time spent training, coaching, supporting, and dealing with personnel concerns and you can clearly see how the area that is the most costly is frequently the area that gets the least attention. Businesses come to me most often because they want to increase their profits. When this happens, the first thing I want to look at is the attention they pay to their biggest expense: employees.
Creating your own work culture
What if you are someone who is stuck, and your company isn’t investing in helping you learn how to become happier, more fulfilled, and more energized at work? What are some super simple ways you can begin creating your own positive work culture when your work culture is challenging?
- Identify the fears that creep into your mind. Invite them out of the shadows. Journal about them. Notice which emotions you feel and where you feel them in your body.
- Ask yourself these questions:
- “This feeling reminds me of at time from my past….” Make notes about that time.
- “I keep this fear alive by….”
- What specifically do you do to keep it alive and triggering you?
- “Keeping this fear alive serves me by….”
- “The pattern I’m noticing is….”
- Do you feel protected by the fear? Does it motivate you? Does it make you angry so that you can justify not doing your best?
- “I can become proactively responsible for changing my pattern around this fear by….”
When I was an employee, I had a big fear that my value would not be seen. If I was not picked for a team or invited to a meeting, my fear manifested in me being resentful and shutting down. Of course I was the only one who knew what was really happening, and to the rest of the world it was interpreted as me being moody and not steady. My fear triggered a pattern that I would repeat over and over. I felt stuck in my job—like I would never be invited to play at the top level. Luckily, the CEO was a perceptive man who took a liking to me. He could see my potential and my self-sabotaging behavior. One day he took me aside and shined a spotlight on this behavior pattern. “We see how good you are. We also see how you handle it when you aren’t noticed. And that is what is holding you back. Your own behavior pattern. Only you can change it.”
I was hurt and embarrassed because he showed me what I didn’t want to see. The company wasn’t holding me back. My own behavior was holding me back. I worked on it. I practiced showing up differently. It was uncomfortable. I spent some time identifying what that feeling reminded me of and of where in my past I had felt the same way.
As I lead myself to notice and let go of that reaction, I also became aware of how freeing it was to not take everything so personally. I noticed that letting my anger and resentment go gave me energy for things that were fun and exciting. And I began to get asked to participate on more and more exciting projects.
I became energized in my work.
I am excited to add this process to my offerings. There are several ways to participate:
- One-to-one coaching for stuck or unhappy employees (via SKYPE, phone, or in-person)
- Host an in-home retreat for friends or colleagues
- April 28, Attend a one day workshop at CPS HR Consulting in Sacramento (Register here)
For associations or groups:
- Energizing keynote sessions or large group events
Joy at Work – Re-energizing Staff
Self-awareness and self-management are key attributes contributing to employees’ success, happiness, purpose, and fulfillment. When employees lack skills or the awareness of how to assess situations, manage their responses, and positively contribute to team goals, the result can be blaming, helplessness, low productivity, gossip, and drama. The cost to the organization is loss of time and productivity, increased turnover, and contagious negativity running through entire departments.
In this fun and engaging workshop, employees will learn to become empowered to make positive shifts. We will explore thinking errors and behavior patterns and explore how our brains deal with stress and fear. Employees will gain insight into how they each can positively impact drama, conflict, and productivity as well as alter negative patterns of behavior. This is a fun, activity-rich workshop focused on improving happiness and satisfaction in work and in life. (Appropriate for audience sizes of 6-600)
- Explore ways to create and maintain a healthy relationship with work. Uncover their default style under stress, and garner tips to mitigate negative reactions.
- Learn to set boundaries and eliminate gossip and drama.
- Learn how to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy conflict.
- Identify their own authentic play style and how it use it to improve productivity.
- Be introduced to the ways in which we all avoid and resist accountability.
- Identify tools to transfer learning to maintain or improve work satisfaction and joy
Beth Wonson Consulting—serving clients across the U.S.
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