Written by Katie Rosseinsky
Feeling stuck in a career slump that you just can’t shake off? We’ve asked the experts for their advice on breaking out of the ‘end zone’ in your work life.
Do you find yourself spending more time moaning about your work with your colleagues than actually working? Perhaps every oh-so-cheery HR email trying to boost staff morale makes you shudder or you find it hard to hide your eye rolls when you hear the breezy optimism of newer recruits?
If these symptoms sound all too familiar, you might have put your job in the ‘end zone’ without realising it. Coined by the careers experts at Glassdoor, the ‘end zone’ is the stage that comes well after the work honeymoon period has worn off, when you’ve totally lost your motivation and you’re struggling to see a future in which you thrive at this company.
It’s the career equivalent of deciding in your head that you’re going to break up with someone: you know it’s going to happen at some point, but you just can’t quite bring yourself to do it right now so, in the meantime, you’ll go through the motions.
The root cause of ‘end zoning’ your job is cynicism, and there are a handful of important triggers, explains Claire Warner, founder of workplace culture and wellbeing consultancy Lift. The first, she says, is when colleagues start to feel unvalued, unheard, ignored or disconnected, or when colleagues find things out by accident or from other people, rather than from their own team or manager. We’ve all been there – and there are few things more disheartening than learning about a major shake-up or promotion secondhand, especially when it will have a major impact on your day-to-day work life.
The root cause of this lies in “poor communication”, Warner says. In companies where employees are kept in the loop and processes are transparent, cynicism and disgruntlement is much lower. “In organisations where decisions are imposed on staff with no involvement or where they’re being made by people operating too far away from the actual challenge, colleagues soon become disengaged and feel unvalued.”
The second cause is an unwillingness to “invest in the growth and development of their staff”, Warner says. No one likes to feel trapped, and the chances are if you’ve been working hard for years but have seen very little reward for your efforts, disillusionment will inevitably set in.
“Feeling like you’re stuck in a dead end with no prospect of progression or personal development massively contributes to feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration”, adds Victoria McLean, founder and CEO of career consultancy City CV. “You end up thinking you’re going nowhere, and if this is combined with a toxic culture, that feeling can be exacerbated.”
Once you’ve slipped into the ‘end zone’, productivity tends to take a nosedive. The rationale is similar to the thought process that underlies the ‘quiet quitting’ trend: why should I go all out when I’m getting very little back? “First to go will be discretionary effort,” Warner says, “the effort an employee puts in that exceeds the general level required to do their job.” Your effort level will likely then drop to the bare minimum, Warner suggests: “Then to a level that is just less than the bare minimum but not yet little enough for a line manager to invest their own time in addressing it.” Especially if they’re struggling with motivation and a bad culture themselves.
When cynicism has started to creep into your work life, it can be hard to shake off – and it spreads fast. “Disgruntled or cynical colleagues are rarely quiet or shy about sharing their [feelings] with colleagues,” Warner notes. “And it doesn’t take long for that disgruntlement and cynicism to spread.” Just think of all those surreptitious chats in the office kitchen or the not-so-heavily coded messages on Teams.
For those who find themselves in this far-from-enviable position, is there any way of falling back in love with a job? Or is the writing on the wall? “It takes some time to get to this point, so it’s difficult to turn things around, but not impossible,” McLean says. The first thing to consider is whether you want to salvage the situation or whether it’s worth cutting your losses completely and channelling your energies into finding a new role.
If you decide to stick with your current job, speaking up and making your voice heard is the best place to start: just as bad communication can send you trudging into the ‘end zone’, an honest, open conversation could help revitalise your dwindling enthusiasm. “[If] you want to stay in the organisation but on different terms… you need to say this to your line manager and suggest ways in which feeling better is going to result in better outcomes for the [company],” Warner says.
“Often people become cynical by assuming a lot. For example, that there’s no room for development, that someone else will get the promotion, that there are no opportunities to grow,” McLean adds. “But a lot of the time, there’s a lack of communication so people don’t really know what opportunities are out there for them. Try having a really honest dialogue, firstly with yourself, so you can identify what it actually is that’s making you feel this way, then with your manager. Explain clearly how you feel, why and what you want to change. You never know, it might just improve your work life.”
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