- February 15, 2021
- Posted by: Joan H. Underwood
- Categories: Business, Coaching, Leadership, Management Performance
Restless Job Syndrome
Back in 2008, I found myself feeling restless. On the face of it, I had a great C-suite job that paid well and had some great perks. Yet, something was missing. I wanted more. However, I wasn’t exactly sure more of what… I felt like my career had stalled, and I didn’t know how to jumpstart it. Fortunately for me, after some deep introspection and candid conversations with trusted mentors and friends, a few things came to light.
Armed with those insights, I engaged in some job sculpting geared towards converting the job I was in to the one that I really wanted. Job sculpting is the art of forging a customized career path in order to increase the chance of retaining talented people.
I then approached my boss with a proposal to amend my scope of work to afford me greater flexibility to pursue other interests. Of course, I had to show him what was in it for him and for the organization. After some tough negotiating, he eventually endorsed the plan thereby paving the way to revive my enthusiasm and to jumpstart what I had come to view as my stalled career.
It turns out that what I was missing at the beginning of that story was job satisfaction. So, what exactly drives that nebulous concept? According to numerous published studies, it essentially comes down to three things – ability, values and life interests. However, each of these plays a different role and carries different weight.
While your ability tends to be a major determinant of whether or not you get you hired, once you’ve secured the job it doesn’t automatically translate into engagement or the willingness to give discretionary effort. Such engagement is one of the hallmarks of job satisfaction.
Your values determine what’s important to you or the rewards you tend to seek out – e.g. money, prestige or job security. However, it’s quite possible that you could have those rewards and still not be satisfied. That was my position at the time.
The third and final variable is life interests – i.e. what makes you happy and gives you a sense of fulfilment. That’s what was causing me to feel like my career had stalled. My job was not in alignment with my life interests.
Typically, when job satisfaction is low, persons may move on trying to find the right fit. As I looked back on my professional life, I acknowledged a pattern of changing jobs about every three years. Although I am a tail-end baby boomer, job hopping was a habit that I shared with millennials. It’s not uncommon for a millennial to stay with a firm for only two or three years before moving on to a position they think is better. In fact, they may even choose to leave a job without having another prospect lined up.
However, back in 2008 I decided to try a different approach. So instead of moving on in search of the next best job opportunity, I developed and implemented the following five-point plan. I share it with you and encourage anyone who is feeling stalled to consider implementing the plan themselves.
Step 1: List the Type of Work/Activities You Love
Having acknowledged the importance of aligning my life interests with my job, I proceeded to make a list of the specific activities that I enjoyed doing. I acknowledged that I was happiest when conceptualizing solutions to complex problems. I particularly loved starting from scratch and designing new systems and policies, tweaking them as I went along to ensure that they were fit for purpose. However, I quickly lost interest once I had ironed out the kinks and things became routine.
What about you? What gives you joy? What feeds your soul?
Step 2: Identify What You Want from Work
In order to identify what I wanted to accomplish, I had to ask myself “what would success look like?” I further broke that down into medium and long-term horizons. I ended up with a list of desired outcomes. Some were financial, but the list also included how I wanted to feel about what I was doing, the type of impact and influence that I wanted to have and the purpose that I wanted to fulfil.
What higher purpose are you called to fulfil?
Step 3: Critically Analyze the Scope of Your Current Job
Once I had identified the activities I loved and the purpose I wanted to fulfil, I candidly assessed whether my current job represented a good match. While there were areas of good alignment, there were also some significant gaps. There were responsibilities on my job description that I absolutely loved. Unfortunately, there were others that I enjoyed about as much as I would enjoy getting poked in the eye.
If you were to place all your current job duties into two columns headed aligned and non-aligned, what would the result be? Which list would be longer?
Step 4: Consider the Interests of Your Boss/Employer
It turns out that some of the duties that I loathed were very important to the organization. For example, I despised the mundane and repetitive tasks associated with processing payrolls and tracking leave entitlement and other benefits. While I understood their importance, I had no desire to do them. So I applied my creative mind to devising ways of ensuring that these tasks could get done effectively and efficiently – without draining my soul in the process.
My goal was to reassign responsibility while retaining the accountability. I knew that the latter was my boss’ underlying interest. I fully understood that I had to check both boxes if I were to satisfy his needs as well as mine.
What is it that employer requires of you? How do you add value? In what ways could you increase the value that your currently add?
Step 5: Initiate Negotiations
The output of the previous step was a proposal to restructure my job thereby creating space and scope for me to pursue my interests – the activities that aligned with my purpose and gave me joy – while fulfilling my contractual obligations to my employer to ensure that my department effectively and efficiently executed its mandate. However, just because I wanted it, that didn’t automatically mean that my boss would go for it. I had to initiate the negotiations in a way that was grounded in a growth mindset and one that emphasized possibilities and mutual interests. I had to develop and present a persuasive argument for my case. I did just that, and shortly thereafter, the previously stalled engine of my career was humming along again.
You may be tempted to rely on your boss/employer to be the one to devise the solutions and to manage your career path. How’s that working out for you? I suspect that if it was working well, you wouldn’t be reading this article… So, why not give this approach a shot?
For more information on effective negotiation, see prior blog article “Getting Others to Say YES”
The Covid pandemic could actually represent an opportunity for you to implement this five-point plan. Does that seem counter-intuitive to you? Here’s the thing, the pandemic has forced many organisations to restructure how they work. In many instances, working from home has become the norm instead of a perk afforded to a privileged minority. What other opportunities/reframes are there to be exploited?
With the application of possibility thinking, could you redesign the job you’re in into the one you want? Perhaps it’s one that would satisfy your employer’s need to reduce your hours while giving you the time that you need to develop a side-gig that aligns with your life interests and that could eventually be scaled up into a full-time enterprise that optimally aligns with your purpose… Or perhaps it could lead to job sharing that would see you contributing to the work in another department that you always found interesting… Don’t you owe it to yourself to give it a shot? Remember, action changes things.
Ambassador Joan H. Underwood is a senior management consultant and policy advisor with extensive experience in both the public and private sectors.
Professional designations held by Ambassador Underwood include that of a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) from the US-based HR Certification Institute, the Society for Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), Accredited Director (Acc.Dir.) and credentialed Master Trainer as designated by the Association for Talent Development (ATD).
She also holds the designation of an Erickson Professional Coach (EPC) and is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
Joan’s most recent professional accomplishments include certification by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) in Strategic Workforce Planning and Change Practitioner as certified by Prosci© Canada and the Change Management Learning Centre.
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