June 1, 2010

Feeling Trapped at Work

There’s nothing like awful unemployment figures to make you feel committed to your current job. Not loyal or happy, perhaps, but committed.

Who would leave a job when new ones are so hard to find?

The problem with this very grownup line of thinking – besides that it’s probably right – is that it can leave you feeling so very trapped. After all, one thing that keeps people sane in a dead-end job is the illusion of choice. Repeating "I could always quit" through an endless work day can be balm to the soul. And now that option is gone too?

Looks that way. The only solution left might be the one that’s hardest to swallow: You’re going to have to improve your job somehow. You’ve probably thought of these options, but just in case, here’s the checklist:

1. Change your surroundings. Your hours, the branch you work at, your manager or department…even rotating your desk 90 degrees so you look at something different will give a tiny boost. Of course, the big one, which I just slipped in there surreptitiously, would be to change your manager or department. If you can do this, it will be almost like starting at a new workplace, without the hassle of job search.

2. Change your approach. Is it the work that bugs you the most? The manager? The customers? Consider the possibility that these things can’t be changed. If that’s the case, then complaining or feeling bad is a little like being upset if you get wet standing out in the rain.

While changing your approach isn’t as simple as putting on a raincoat, it’s worth trying. For example, several authors have written guides to "managing up," the concept of improving your relationship with your manager by strategizing the relationship. Maybe this is your opportunity to learn this key skill.

3. Change your prospects. Are you really trapped? Assuming the answer is yes, your next question should be, "What is my exit strategy?" You may not be able to leave now because of the economy, but if you’re not careful, a lack of preparation will continue to trap you when things improve.

The more trapped you are, the more important it is to develop your skills and network so you can zoom away when the timing is right. Just having this plan in hand will make the days go better in the meantime.

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