20 Ways to Get Through a Rough Patch at Work
Your alarm goes off, and you can’t help but groan and shrink back down under the covers. The thought of facing another workday makes you uneasy (to put it mildly). Things haven’t been going well for a while, and you don’t have a clue as to how to make them better. Job searching isn’t in the cards for you right now, so your only viable option is to grin and bear it. Or, is it?
Career Coach Evangelia Leclaire explains that it’s “common to hit a rough patch in your career where you feel complacent, disconnected, or disengaged. Maybe you’re stuck in a rut, tired and uninspired…You slip under the radar and feel like you’re just getting by.”
But even though rough patches at work are bound to happen, you don’t have to sit idly by and accept being miserable—not when 20 of our career coaches have far better advice for you.
1. Make Friends, Not Enemies
Negative work situations can be disappointing. But it’s important not to let disappointment ultimately stop you from thinking strategically or acting professionally to accomplish a greater good. This is why it’s essential you find a way to connect with your colleagues and build camaraderie. You can’t imagine how much this will change your situation for the better.
2. Try Something New
Request to lead an initiative, take on a new project, or plot out a fresh path for your sanity and success. If you don‘t see that as an option at the office, take on something unfamiliar outside of work, something that won‘t stress or burn you out. Taking on a new project or charting out a plan for success will stimulate your brain, causing a surge and release of endorphins, and give you a feeling of expansion.
3. Leave Work at Work
The worst thing about suffering from a negative work situation is that it tends to impact every other aspect of your life. When you leave the office, try to avoid gossiping and complaining about it. It is a hard thing to do, but it’s important. If you feel this is impossible, then allow yourself a specific time each week to bring work home, and the rest of the time, leave it at the office.
4. Stop Avoiding It
Acting like a bystander in your career, perhaps by not pushing back where appropriate or assuming your efforts will speak for themselves (in the form of being granted a promotion), can make a work slump worse. Evading issues that bother you clearly doesn’t serve you or your employer—you sink deeper into a slump and your job may suffer as a result. Turn things around by identifying decisions you’ve been avoiding. Confronting what’s nagging you will not only dissolve your frustration, but will also allow you to make the most of your current situation.
5. Check Your Attitude
So much of how we‘re perceiving the world—things suck, I’m stuck, I’m bored—are really a function of the frame of mind that we have when we‘re seeing the situation. Ask yourself if your thinking is coloring your perception of it. In the end, things are just things. How we feel about them is completely a function of our perception, and altering your attitude can mean all the difference.
6. Keep Showing Up
Do the best work you can do. Shirking your responsibilities and withdrawing (i.e., increased absenteeism, lower productivity) will only make the situation worse. Jot down the root causes of the situation, and if there’s anything you feel comfortable talking to your manager about, schedule a meeting to go over what’s on your mind.
7. Stand Up for Yourself
Often what makes for a bad work situation is that your boss or co-workers, treat you unfairly. Maybe they give you work to do that is outside the realm of your responsibility. Perhaps you have a manager who talks down to you. Learn to say ‘no!’ You can do this respectfully and assuredly. Say, ‘Are you asking me to do this and put my other work on hold? I can’t do both.’ If you’re being talked down to, ask to meet one-on-one with the person to discuss the importance of respect. The end result will be that you will feel better even if nothing changes, though chances are good that things will change.
8. Shift Your Perspective
It’s all about perspective. Oftentimes in work, we’re miserable in a situation and can’t see our way out. And that makes us even more miserable, creating a vicious cycle. Fortunately, we have the ability to shift our perspective. Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Look at the situation from another point of view and see if you might be interpreting things in one way where there could be many more ways to do so. This exercise allows us to see that we’ve got options, and it enables us to feel less trapped or frustrated.
9. Don’t Suffer in Silence
Be open and honest with your supervisor about the difficulty you’re having. Share examples of why you’re unhappy or restless. It’s crucial that you don’t simply complain: Share specific examples of the challenges, but also offer some solutions or alternatives. It may be that your supervisor doesn’t realize you’re struggling, so giving him the opportunity to change direction for you would be good. There may be nothing to modify, but at least you’ll know that you did what you could to make things better.
10. Utilize a Learning Log
One of the most helpful things you can do for yourself is to keep a learning log for yourself. Create a spreadsheet, and at the end of each week, write down one thing you learned. You’ll probably be surprised to discover how many things you’ve learned over the course of a month. Just acknowledging this can help you through your rough patch.
11. Seek Opportunities
Try thinking about what the job can do for you, rather than what you can do for the job. Are there opportunities for you to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills? Are there co-workers you can connect with for mentorship? Are there any committees or groups you can join within the organization to gain exposure to bigger-picture plans to gain context for the work you do (opening the door for greater fulfillment)? Your company exists for your professional development as much as you exist to fuel its growth and success.
12. Uncover Positivity
Accept that you can’t always turn around a bad situation. Sometimes the best way to combat negativity is to surround yourself with those that support you and focus on the aspects that bring positivity to your career. If you can peel back the layers a bit and find something that’s really good in your day-to-day, things may start to look up.
13. Take Control
Is the situation something you can or cannot control? If colleague or client is causing you stress, remember that you can control how you respond. Often, a negative situation gets worse when you avoid a difficult conversation. Challenge your notion of what’s negotiable (and re-negotiable). Don’t like your commute? Ask for a flexible work schedule. Evil client giving you hell? Ask for a reassignment. Brave an honest conversation about your frustrations and turn a complaint into an ask.
14. Make a Decision
When you’re dealing with obstacles, follow this mantra: Change what you can control, influence what you can’t. I use the ‘won’t do’ versus ‘will do’ strategy. Rather than deciding you won’t get into an argument with your rude colleague when you’re hashing out responsibilities for a project, decide what you will do instead: ‘When John interrupts me next time, I will pause and take a deep breath, then move the conversation forward by asking a question about the next topic on the agenda.’
15. Review and Assess
It’s important to take a step back and review everything leading up to your current state in an objective manner. It helps to write or draw out the situation with pen and paper to visualize what’s really going on. Be sure to include all people and timeline of events involved. Then critically assess, ‘What is my role in this situation?’ Have you been accommodating, positive, optimistic, clear, and direct? Or do you find yourself being alienating, negative, pessimistic, ambiguous, and avoiding? Oftentimes negative work solutions are created out of misunderstandings or unvoiced animosity. Get to the bottom of it by following the 80/20 rule (80% listening, 20% talking), and collaborating toward a resolution.
16. Be Proactive
To start resolving a negative situation at work, first call a spade a spade. If your boss micromanages or otherwise makes your life miserable, address the issue head-on at your next meeting—without being confrontational. Always make it about the team and the company’s mission first and about yourself last. The key is always to connect the severity of the problem to the team and company, so that it doesn’t seem too much about you and doesn’t make you a complainer.
17. Practice Gratitude
Try focusing on what you’re grateful for, whether it’s a paycheck or the great team member you have. Over time that gratitude may completely flip your perceptions of your current situation. Perhaps you can find more ways to boost your happiness outside of work (delve into that hobby you love, socialize with people who make you happy). Take advantage of the things you’re grateful for while you figure out what’s next.
18. Find an Ear and Connect
Even if you‘ve tried to rise above your rut and still can‘t seem to break out of it, it’s helpful to get a fresh perspective on how to improve your situation. Talk to someone and brainstorm ways to pick yourself up. Ask for a story or example of when she pulled herself out of a rough patch. Listen with an open mind, and end with a few actionable ideas so the conversation leaves you with next steps. It’s helpful to know that you’re not alone.
19. Make Lemonade
You always have more power than you think you do, and although you can’t control a lot of what happens outside of you, you can always control how you respond. Perhaps you need to learn how to be more assertive, set boundaries, or advocate for a different assignment that makes better use of your talents. Regardless of the nature of the negative situation, you can make adjustments to deal with it, even if it is just an attitude adjustment.
20. Reject Boredom
At times it can be easy to become bored with the monotony that accompany most positions. Consider creating a motivation tool that’ll help you avoid this. Write in a journal or even create a short video that details a project you’re working on or the challenge you’re experiencing. Include the obstacles, what you’re learning, your role, and accomplishments. Through the development process you can find ways to become more inspired, explore creative solutions that invigorate interest, and identify areas for professional development. This is not only a way to encourage yourself but also to determine where you can use support to grow in your position.