If you are in a rut and feel stuck in your job, you are not alone. Research shows that up to 40% of managers and executives in the US are dissatisfied in their jobs (Pew Research, October 6, 2016). There are many reasons for this dissatisfaction ranging from stress, issues with your boss, not feeling valued, work environment, poor salary and benefits, office location, etc. Some reasons are much more serious, such as burnout and severe stress reactions such as anger, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. These problems may even require therapy. Approximately 20% of the population in North America suffers some form of mental illness, but fear of being stigmatized is often a barrier to receiving appropriate help.
In my experience as an executive coach, there are two phases of being stuck in the workplace that are not related to emotional or mental health problems. The first phase is most frequently exhibited by those who are in a fairly shallow rut. They tend to be bored with their jobs or dissatisfied with their bosses, their salary, etc. They are generally too complacent to move or too afraid to take action: “It’s tough out there!” is a refrain often voiced. Typically, this inertia can be remedied by speaking to a coach, a good friend, a family member or a trusted colleague, who will tell them the truth with ruthless compassion (see my March 16, 2015 post, Ruthless Compassion? Really?).
In the second phase, the rut is deeper and more complex. For such managers and executives, the consequences can be debilitating. They feel great pressure not only to perform at peak levels: to be capable of dealing successfully with any and all problems, and to be seen as being on top of the situation. They feel an urgency to act quickly -- only to realize they can’t, no matter how hard they struggle. Others are impervious to their condition, and are functioning in an unhappy, quasi-mechanical daze. Many are despondent, and some are even desperate. They may fear for their job and for their health…
The good news is that they don’t have to remain stuck. They can choose to get unstuck. I speak from personal experience. During my career, I felt at times trapped in a morass that affected my productivity and my well-being. I had to learn to find the resources deep within myself to get unstuck. These experiences have helped inform my coaching of senior managers and executives who also find themselves in such situations. The first step is for these clients to admit and understand the situation which is sapping their enthusiasm, their energy and their ability to perform. This may seem obvious at first blush, but it isn’t. Most of us are more accustomed to taking immediate action, rather than taking the time to reflect on what we are experiencing and to become self-aware. One must learn at such times to heed our body when it is crying out for help or to listen to well-intentioned colleagues or friends who tell us we’re 'not right'.
Though self-awareness is necessary, it is not sufficient. To become unstuck, marshalling inner resources and adopting a structured approach based on practical techniques is required. This is a daunting task, especially if left to one’s own resources. My responsibility as an executive coach is to assist my clients identify the causes of such ruts and to develop the proactive techniques required for them to move forward.
This type of professional support is not a luxury. It is one of the most important investments an organization can make.