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Fix It Or Forget It?

December 17th, 2010

When people’s workplace frustrations lead them to ponder looking elsewhere, they often hesitate and contemplate if this really warrants leaving . . . whatever it happens to be.  Is it serious enough to bother, they ask. Are they blowing it out of proportion?

Irene* was continually frustrated at her workplace – and she wasn’t the only one. It seemed that, since the economy had gone south, the CEO worked everyone harder and harder – then, reminded them how lucky they were to still be employed.

Although she was grateful at first to still have a job, Irene spent the last couple of years doing the work of at least two people with not only no salary increase, but – more importantly, she felt – no recognition for her efforts or accomplishments.

Now that the company was making a profit once again, she saw no reduction in her workload . . . or increase in her title, pay or benefits, not to mention any better treatment by her director. Stress levels with her supervisor and the goals he set for her continued to be very high, and there seemed to be no end in sight!

When Irene and I spoke, I asked her to consider several questions to help her decide how significant the stress levels had become:

•      How did she feel each day, traveling on the way to work? Was it merely a trip, or was it laced with anxiety or dread?
•      Similarly, when departing at the end of the day, did she feel the need to escape, have a surge of relief, or was it simply a ride home?
•      Did her emotions hinge on the status of her director that day? If the boss’ mood was good, were people greatly relieved, versus everyone walking on eggshells if it was bad? What if he was out for the day? Did people visibly celebrate? (It’s not a good sign if employees live and die by this barometer.)
•      Did she purposely communicate, schedule and otherwise plan her day to avoid personal or face to face interaction with her director? (e.g., email when she could have easily spoken in person or via phone to get a quick answer)
•      Did the “rules” or protocols seem to vary from day to day (or person to person)? Did her manager dictate how he wanted things to be, only to change everything around once people were used to the system . . . or did that system apply to only certain people and not others?

After reviewing this checklist, Irene saw now that she spent a great deal of even her off duty hours thinking about her supervisor, usually fuming about how poorly she had been treated that day. (Was it so difficult for him to simply speak in a civil, respectful tone, she wondered?) She knew better than to vent on her Facebook page about a bad day at work, but did talk on the phone to a certain good friend on a regular basis. She became annoyed at how regular this topic of conversation was becoming between them. (It occurred to her that her friend was no doubt getting tired of it, too.)

Although she had been hesitant to spend all the additional time and energy that is required in a job search, Irene finally decided to Forget It! with this realization that too much of her life was being spent defending her actions against someone who did nothing but criticize her, no matter what – and then licking her wounds after hours.

She decided her extra efforts would be much better utilized toward improving her everyday environment and overall mental health! We worked instead on highlighting her talents and accomplishments – and promoting them to interviewers – and found her another job.

Jennifer* was frustrated at how much time she spent doing what amounted to babysitting her director.  He was very unsophisticated when it came to pretty much anything technological, and was constantly asking her to assist him with nearly everything. He scarcely understood how to operate his own email account!

As we weighed her options, however, Jennifer came to realize that while this indeed was a nuisance, there were benefits to being the knowledgable one in the office. Her director came to trust her judgment more and more on a variety of issues, and began sending her to represent him at several high ranking staff meetings, where she had greater visibility among key players.

For example, simply “helping with email” gave her access to accounts and passwords that allowed her to view reports and materials that she might not otherwise be privy to, and learn more about company information. Jennifer became known as the one to go to for information!

Her director let her know that he was just a few years away from retirement and had no interest in learning new tricks of the trade. He obviously wanted the technical duties done for him.

Jennifer decided to Fix It! by using her new reputation as leverage to ask her director for permission to take more training, so that his department could maintain its reputation for being in the know. Since he was content for her to learn more and represent the department in this area, he approved nearly all of her training requests – as long as she would hold his hand through his difficulties. She did so willingly . . . and made a point not to make his technological weaknesses visible to others in the company.

Jennifer has become widely recognized throughout the company, and although she has gotten a promotion, most people outside of her department believe that she holds a position higher than her actual rank, due to the types of meetings she attends, her knowledge, contacts and general visibility.

She feels that she made a good trade in helping her technophobe director with his fears, in exchange for the additional responsibility, training and networking she has received.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share? Send it to me, and it might help others. Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

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