Dear Manager… I can’t take it anymore!

I consider myself very fortunate in my line of business to have met a lot of very talented people, people who truly care about the business they’re in and the goals that the company collectively is trying to achieve. These are the people who get assigned to important projects, get invited to most of the meetings and rightly so, since they know the most, and are frequently irreplaceable. They are the people who, simply put, give a damn! What is disturbing however, is how many of them are overworked, tired and are ready to quit!

While most of what I write is addressed to management on how to create better engagement, or a better working culture, this post is addressed to you, the overworked, irreplaceable employee who actually cares but, is ready to walk. I offer you the following, not as words of solace but, as a brief guide on how to regain control and start a conversation for positive change.

It is well understood that as human beings we are only partially fulfilled at work, yet, there are remarks and comments made that make us feel guilty for what we enjoy doing and even worse, for having a life outside of work. Please read on if at work you hear comments such as:

  • If you have to stay late every day – it means you are not managing your working hours effectively. Maybe you should learn to delegate or focus on the right things.
  • VP openly says: he wants us all to be stressed. This is how he thinks he gets results.
  • Your boss says: You are smiling and look happy – people are not going to take you seriously, or they will think you are slacking off.
  • At the town halls, top leadership says: be authentic, be you, make sure you have a work-life balance however, your immediate management does not support you leaving work early or asking for a ‘mental-break’ day off.

As a business process professional, I have a process for most things! The following steps are not difficult, and they leverage tools that most business already have (some by law). So here is my 5-step process to creating a better working environment for yourself (or to finally convince yourself that walking away is indeed the right move):

1. Gather the Facts:

As much as possible, collect data about your own personal performance plus some key performance metrics that showcase your work ethic and your contributions. This will help you to understand your own achievements and will support your discussions.

  • List the on-going tasks you are responsible for (officially!)
  • List the things you actually do, include one-time tasks, special projects etc.
  • List any specific metrics or goals you are targeting to hit
  • Identify hours that you spend on each task and frequency of those
  • Do a quick analysis to show hours per week overall spent on each task, especially those tasks that are outside of the official list of your responsibilities
  • Add the tasks that are ad-hoc and additional – like meetings that you are involved in
  • Keep a brief log of your working environment and rate your interactions with others at work. What interactions do you find most draining?

2. Get clarity on your role and responsibilities

So often there is a big difference between the job you were hired to do and the actual things you do every day. This is understandable as jobs evolve. Some things get added and removed as the business tries to adapt and change, some things you stop doing because no one seems to care about them, and some things you choose to do because the last person doing them left and someone needs to do them!

From the data gathering step (1) you should have a clear understanding of what the difference is between official role and actual role. Now, here is what you should do with this information:

  • Review your list of roles and responsibilities with your direct manager. Make sure you highlight everything that you do (yes, there is a good chance they didn’t know some of the things you do).
  • See where the biggest differences between official and actual roles and highlight those in your conversation.
  • Make sure you are qualified to do new tasks and are compensated fairly for them.
  • Know when to say “No”. Whether you are the one who sees the need to do a task outside your role, or someone is asking you to do it, don’t accept this task unless you know it can be accomplished without impacting other tasks (or sacrificing more of your personal time). Instead have a conversation about prioritization, and see what can be removed or delayed.
 Pro-Tip: If you have a process management team in your business, reach out to them and see what information they have, there is a good chance they will be able to help you with the above, at least the official part of your role.

3. Establish a clear understanding of expectations

Know what you have signed up for. It is possible you may be picking up on unintentional signals such as tone in e-mails, expectations for availability on a weekend and/or after-hours. Your interpretation of the signals may be wrong or the person giving the signals maybe sending the wrong message. Have a face-to-face conversation to make sure you have clear expectations and treat any misunderstanding as a step towards better clarity. No guessing.

If your role involves hitting specific metrics such as profitability targets, or sales quotas, make sure they are achievable and you have the right span of control to hit these targets. If there are multiple targets, get clarity on relative priority and importance.

4. Cross check your values with the organization’s/management values

So now you know what you do and what is expected of you, it is time for some inner reflection. Your personal values system is dependent on your background, upbringing and events that happened and are happening in your life, amongst many other aspects. Have you spent some time lately to identify what your values are?

  • Do a quick check to understand what you value the most and what you stand for
  • Organizations are similar to people in the sense that no two are exactly the same, each organization is different, has different values, and different things the organization holds as important. Do you know the values of your organization and of your team within the organization?
  • To meet the expectations you have established in the previous step (3), what value must you exhibit? How should you behave? What is expected of you? Do these values match with your personal list?
  • What happens if you “Do what I say, not what I do…”, meaning, what happens if you actually behaved by the values that management talks about in town halls, and in corporate memos?

5. Strive to achieve that elusive detachment

Okay, so maybe I am pushing it with this one. I know your type, you are the people who give a damn after all, the ones striving for success, and the ones who take pride in your own sense of achievement. Maybe you are even tired of hearing about letting go, taking it easy or that it is only work. I know work is important to you, and we all certainly spend enough time of the day at work that it should be important and pleasant. It doesn’t matter where you draw the work-life balance line; the first step in achieving detachment is the recognition that the line does actually exist, and there are different aspects to your life.

  • Where is your work-life balance line right now? Is this where you want it to be?
  • What other aspects are important in your life? Family time? Hobbies? Interests? Personal priorities?
  • Learn to observe and be mindful of what you do and how you feel (I find meditation techniques very helpful in learning to do this). Are you doing what you want to be doing?

There is one powerful phrase that stuck with me: there are a lot of irreplaceable people at the cemetery. It is gloomy but, it is a great reminder that there is no time to waste in doing something you don’t like. Love yourself and the world outside of work…it is beautiful.

About the author: Sasha Aganova, MBA, is the Managing Partner of the Process Renewal Group. Sasha has successfully implemented and executed Process Management best practices for organizations in multiple industries, countries and cultures. Her current focus is on helping her clients get ready for the Millennial generation, become agile and become more process centric. Sasha is a frequent conference speaker where she shares her experience and passion for achieving long lasting and sustainable change by aligning and combining business process management with cultural change.