There are many reasons it’s like this but I’d rather focus on how to make it better rather than go through a history lesson of business and how we got to this point.
So why is work your most dysfunctional relationship? Because…
1) You approach your working relationships at arms length rather than close to your heart
What I mean is we don’t fully own the relationships we have at work. We work with people every day but we don’t work at working well together.
We have all been in environments where people are passive-aggressive, gossip, badmouth a co-worker, or complain and nag and make the office a horrible place to be.
And what do we do about it? Normally we do nothing. We might complain once in a while or roll our eyes, but for the most part we just accept it because “we have to work with this person”.
I say bull, don’t put up with it. If a person you are working with is dragging everyone down, sabotaging the success of the company (maybe not even knowing they are doing so), do something. If you are comfortable in doing so, talk to the person; try to find out what is going on. Maybe it’s a direct question, like, “Why are you not able to get x, y, z done, is there something I can help with to make sure it gets done?” This might shock them into realizing others notice they are not doing their job. Another thing is as early as you know someone is having issues, talk to the project lead or the manager so they can step in and help before it’s too late.
Managers are busy too and may not notice a person is being toxic to the environment. You aren’t tattling you are looking out for your fellow workmates.
Also, managers, you need to buck up and take responsibility! Don’t let bad behavior fester and feed into your team because before you know it you manage a toxic team and don’t think the company won’t notice. Nip personality issues the minute you see them. If you have hired someone and their negativity was not evident until they started, sit them down and let them know criticism is necessary, but having solutions is more necessary and their negative comments without solutions are not helpful. If coaching doesn’t resolve the issue, send them on their way. Trust me, your team will thank you for it.
Just like in life, sometimes the only answer is divorce.
2) You let others control your career
One of the biggest complaints companies hear from staff surveys is they are poor at career development. I have always found this to be surprising because the only person I rely on when it comes to my career plans is me. This doesn’t mean I don’t have others help me get there, but I own this, this is about MY career and I am not going to sit by and wait for others to act when it comes to my future.
How do you take control of your career? First you need to know what you want to do. One of the biggest issues is many people don’t really know where they want to be in 3 to 5 years and so instead of taking stock they blame their company for not giving them a clear career advancement path.
If you do know where you want to be in 3 to 5 years, then #4 You Stay Silent, will help you. But if you don’t, try these few steps to help you figure it out.
Step 1: what are the things you like to do at work as well as outside of work? What are the things that even though you have worked all day you can’t wait to get home and do? These could be hobbies, things you’ve been passionate about your entire life. Better still, what projects do you enjoy doing at work no matter how late in the evening it is?
Step 2: list those things out, then think about the skills or core competencies that are needed to do them. Core competencies are things like: good writing skills, great presentation skills, effective listening skills, design aptitude, technical skills (be specific), management skills, etc. Once you have a list of those core competencies, write them out on a paper all by themselves and then think of careers out there that rely on those core competencies to be successful.
For example, I love photography, traveling, and writing. Some of the core competencies of these passions are: research, planning, context, design, inquisitiveness, learning, creativity, color, hearing and capturing stories. From these is it any wonder my professional career went into human resources, office management, and project management?
Human Resources allowed me to meet people, ask questions and hear their stories. Office Management allowed me to plan, design, and create. Project Management allowed me to research, plan, learn, create but also in the context of who it was for and what would the impact be on them.
It might be helpful to have a few trusted friends, mentors, and colleagues help you understand where your true passions are and what core competencies you enjoy using. Once you have an idea of what skills you thrive using as well as what careers allow you to use them most you can better plan on getting there because you know where you want to be.
3) You chase the wrong things
In my twenties I was a consumer. Every dollar I earned I spent on things like clothes, electronics, and frankly, junk. I would spend my entire weekends shopping. By my thirties what did I have to show for it besides an empty bank account and things that didn’t make me any happier? I had a house but not a home.
Thankfully my thirties brought me a different perspective and that’s when I started to travel, that’s when I gained lasting friendships and that’s when I learned that people are the important thing, not stuff. And I think we need to approach work in the same manner.
Money, titles, those things don’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, being underpaid is not a goal, I have skills that are marketable and I should be earning a wage that respects what I bring, but I don’t let money control what I do and how I do it and most importantly where I do it.
The things you should be looking for when figuring out where to work are: Do I have an impact? Do I have a say? Do they appreciate my efforts? Is there room for growth? One question I always ask myself and observe quite intensely when I interview is: Are people having fun? If not, I move on.
4) You stay silent
This is a big one and it goes hand-in-hand with #2, You Let Others Control Your Career. I’m not blaming you as most companies have a system to take control of your career in the form of performance reviews. It’s their way of saying, shhh, we’ll talk about this in six to twelve months. But this is horrible and it’s probably the leading cause of why work is your most dysfunctional relationship.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, even if your company continues to think poorly about how best to coach and reward its staff.
Don’t wait for your manager to talk to you about how you are doing, how you can contribute to the team, and how to get where you want to be in 3 to 5 years. Don’t just meet once in-a-while, meet once a week! I know, this seems like a lot but let me ask you this, do you only talk to your significant other, to your children, to your family, once or twice a year about important things or even regarding day-to-day things? Of course not! So why would you do any less in the place you spend a majority of your waking moments in?
Stop being silent about your career! If your company doesn’t have the smarts to get rid of performance reviews and to treat people with trust, respect, and understanding, then you demand it!
Meet with your manager and discuss what the team is working on and how you can help. Discuss what roadblocks you are experiencing and ask your manager for advice. Discuss what you really enjoy doing and how you can do more of it. And please, talk about tomorrow. Talk about where you want to be and how to get there. If you want to be a manager, ask them to help you get the skills now so when a management position opens you have the skills to get it.
All of our other relationships are flexible and are give and take. At one time you are the leader, the coach, at other times, your friend is, your child is. It shouldn’t be any different at the office, which is why these weekly meetings should be open, free flowing. These should be collaborative discussions about what you can contribute as well as what you need to continue to be successful.
If your manager is not willing to meet, it’s time to find one who is, whether that’s at your current company or somewhere else.
5) You settle
I have seen it over and over, people who stay in a role or in a company even though they are not happy. Why, because they have responsibilities, because they have kids, because they have bills, but what about the responsibility to yourself? The way I look at it is I have one life and I’m not going to walk through it with glazed eyes and an apathetic attitude. I’m going to love what I do as much as I can!
Stop settling. If you don’t like your job, talk to your manager, talk to your HR person, talk to the President or CEO of the company. If you are there they value you and will listen. Be precise. They can’t act unless you tell them what you want.
If you don’t like where you’re working then start looking at other places. The best place to start is to talk with your friends. Ask them: Do you like where you work? Why? Do you feel like what you do matters? Do you feel like you have a say in what and how things are done? Do you have opportunities? They can also be an awesome reference. Any good company will value an employee reference over an application from a jobsite.
This ties in with #3, Chasing the wrong things. Don’t let the promise of money make you stay somewhere. That money might help you get that 60” flat screen TV, but was the misery of staying someplace you don’t like worth a TV? I don’t think so.
In the end, what this all boils down to is work is a huge part of our lives so why do we settle for dysfunctional on such a huge scale especially when it doesn’t have to be that way? There are some awesome companies out there who get it. They understand there is a better way to help their people thrive and succeed, which will then help the company be successful. Look for companies that have a bigger mission other than money. Look for companies that have a good reputation for treating their employees well and for creating a work environment that people enjoy working in. Look for companies that also have a great work/life balance. But most importantly, look at yourself and take ownership of your professional life. Change it from dysfunctional to happily functional!