According to Harvard Business Review, the main reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t like their boss.
There are other reasons. No opportunity for growth or someone offers you ‘a better gig’ are just a couple. Either way, people quit when the bond with their employer is weak. So, naturally, you start to look elsewhere.
When your Boss doesn’t care
We all need to feel like someone cares. Whether this is at home, at work or from the powers that be. It makes a difference to us.
I know that when I feel cared about, it changes what goes on inside me. I feel more energised, more willing to contribute and focused on doing the important stuff. I’m more hopeful.
Compare this with when I’ve felt ignored – I’m irritated, frustrated or distracted. When my boss has shown little interest in improving the way we do things, it has made me angry. When my boss has been absent or unavailable, I’ve yearned for a better replacement. And when my boss has put their own needs or the needs of higher management before the needs of our clients, patients or students, I’ve complained. And, to my disappointment, what I’ve said has often fallen on deaf ears.
Why keeping busy keeps you stuck
You spend a lot of your time at work. A five-day week working eight hour days equates to roughly 35% of your waking hours. And, many people work longer hours and 6 days a week as well. You’re busy with work as well as the rest of life. The stress can be overwhelming and lead to other more serious problems like anxiety and depression.
When people come to see me asking for help with their stress, I often get them to complete this exercise. It’s called “have to, should do and want to.” You draw three columns and write these headings at the top. Then you think of everything you do each day and put it in one of those columns depending on whether it’s something you feel you have to do, should do (but may put off) or want to do.
You can do this for yourself right now if you like. Just track back over the last 7 days and make three lists. Then, see which list is longest.
When you get caught up with stress, your days tend to be filled up with lots of things you have to do and there is very little time left for what you want to do.
Being a grown-up means handling lots of responsibilities. And, this is demanding. It asks you to sacrifice what you want to do in favour of doing what needs to be done. The result is that you are busy doing lots of stuff. You get used to always being on your feet and rarely take time to sit down, step back or reflect on what has happened.
Keeping busy can be productive and it can make things worse for you. Time disappears and so your to-do list gets longer. You start cutting corners with your self-care by skipping lunch breaks, working until the late hours and putting-off holidays.
The problem with putting-off self-care is that you start to wither. Just like when you neglect your home, it starts to suffer. Cracks start to appear, things break and then don’t get repaired. If you keep putting it off, the repairs end up being a much bigger job that causes more disruption. To avoid this, you need to stay on-top of things and invest now so it keeps looking after you in the months and years to come.
Everyone else is probably feeling the same as you
When you’re struggling under the weight of stress, you can feel like a failure. Your mind can get busy judging and criticising you. This is just your mind’s way of trying to fix the problem. It’s looking for a cause or someone to blame. We naturally do this when something has gone wrong.
The trouble is that self-criticism rarely works. Instead of helping you to feel less stressed, it makes you more frustrated, more anxious and more pessimistic about things getting better.
It can be helpful to remind yourself that you aren’t on your own. Even if your mind is thinking how others seem to be coping better than you, you can get stuck in a loop blaming yourself. There have been times when I’ve felt like this. My mind has got busy calling me ‘inadequate’ and ‘childish’. But, it hasn’t helped.
Another risk is that you feel angry and your mind quickly switches into blaming others as well. “Why doesn’t my boss ever listen to me?” or “this is their fault.” These thoughts are probably valid, but they too can keep you stuck.
Why standing up for yourself helps you and everyone else
Self-criticism is like a weed. It sprouts up out of the ground and interferes with all the plants and flowers. It can strangle them and if you let them grow, they’ll take over. Self-criticism is a natural thing for your mind to do. And when you don’t stand up for yourself, you let the self-criticism dominate your headspace.
Self-criticism doesn’t just effect you. By doing it to yourself, you also model to others self-criticism as a way of coping when empathy and acceptance works much better.
Stand-up for yourself with courage, kindness and wisdom
Standing-up for yourself takes courage. There are different ways you can do that. You can shout at people or shout at your own mind. But, my experience has shown me that doesn’t work. It puts others on the defensive and it strengthens my own self-critical thoughts…they fight back as well.
Now when I think about standing up for myself, I think about the great leaders of our world who have stood up to oppression and won. People like Aung San Suu Kyi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Muatthai, Victor Frankl, Maya Angelo and Malala Yousafzai. They’ve stood up to suffering by being brave and being kind. We don’t think of these people as aggressive.
These people and many others are an inspiration to me. They remind me that we can be courageous even in the most harsh of circumstances. The suffering of millions of individuals on account of their ethnicity or gender is not the same as having a boss that doesn’t care about you. But you can learn a great deal from their struggles that will help you with your own.
Five Plays to make you more visible at work
- Recognise your rights.
Before you stand up for yourself, you need to know your rights. Rights aren’t given to you when those in power or authority are ready to give them. The invitation is to claim them for yourself.
Employment law states that you have rights as an employee. This depends on your employment status e.g. full-time, part-time, self-employed etc., but employees, at the very least, have a right to a contract, breaks and a pension.
Your organisational policies will often state that you have a right to regular meetings or reviews with your manager and that they be available to discuss important issues.
Whatever your employment status or organisational policies, you have rights that are protected. If you are unhappy about the level of support you are getting, then your first point of call might be to read up on your rights.
- Validate your feelings.
When you validate your feelings, you say to yourself “I have a right to feel angry, sad, hurt, annoyed, frustrated, outraged” etc. Just like you can recognise your rights as an employee, you can recognise your right to feel an emotion.
This is tricky, because your mind is also tricky. It can get busy saying “I should just get over this” or “I’m being unreasonable”. When you work in an environment that is unsupportive, then you’ve probably received these messages from your boss either explicitly or implicitly.
But, the truth is, you always have a right to feel whatever you are feeling. If you feel angry, that is your right. The right to feel is different to the right to behave how you like. We have to be clever with what we do. We need to judge the context and choose an action that is going to be the most useful at that time.
- Identify the things you do to keep busy
Earlier I talked about how keeping busy can work against you. Yes, it is natural when you have lots of responsibilities, but over time you start to suffer.
Keeping busy can also be a way of trying to push away unwanted feelings. You might distract yourself with something easy or do something that gives you a short-term relief or benefit. For example, eating a cake, looking at facebook or complaining about stuff to colleagues who aren’t the cause of the problem.
I’m not saying that you can’t do these things. But it works much better for you when you can notice you have a choice. Often we’re lost in thought doing stuff automatically. By making a list of the things you do to push away your anger, frustration or hurt, you are in a better position to choose whether you do that thing or you do something else.
- Practice small steps of standing up for yourself…regularly
Standing up for yourself takes courage, because it is scary. You risk upsetting people, being criticised or being ignored even more. You don’t know what will happen.
Practicing small steps will help you build your confidence. Taking regular steps will make you more visible and send the message that you are not going to give up easily. You don’t need to be aggressive, even though you may feel furious. Being persistent is what counts.
Ask for help – Standing up for what you need so you can do your job to a high standard. Sometimes this means you’ll need help from other people. Whether that’s them giving their time, allocating sufficient resources or providing effective leadership, you won’t get it if you don’t ask.
“And you may need to keep asking. If you believe it is necessary, keep asking. Ask again and again and again. Do it with respect. Do it politely and do it loudly!”
Offer help to others – people are more likely to offer their help if they see that you are willing to help them. You also model empathy by showing awareness that they need help as well. See how you can support your boss with what they need and see if they’d be willing to help you in return.
- Describe the support you want and model it to others
When I am frustrated, it is easy for me to notice what other people aren’t doing. In the heat of the moment, I might tell someone what they’re not doing. I might point the finger or look to blame someone. We all have a tendency to do this.
But, what I am not doing when I blame someone else, is to communicate clearly what I need. For example, if you’re frustrated that your boss always tells you what to do without asking, then you can reframe your frustration into a description of what you need.
You might say, “I appreciate your suggestion. I can see that you want to improve what is happening here. I think that if we were to do this, then it would cause (x negative event) to happen. I think it might work better if we did this. What do you think?”
Use empathy by showing the other person you understand their intention is meant well. Step-over the urge to criticise them and make a helpful contribution. Not only will your boss be more likely to hear you, you also model a more effective way of communicating with people. This makes it more likely that they’ll follow suit.
These five steps act as a guide. You won’t always be successful in following them. I know I am not. We are all fallible. The trick is to recognise when you’ve strayed off course and then to try again the next time.
These actions aren’t easy. They’re made harder when your workplace is culturally critical, controlling or unsupportive. But, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be done. If you are willing and you have the courage, maybe you can move forwards being kind and being wise so that others can follow your example.
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