Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

If you’ve tuned into the news over the past year or so, I’m guessing you’ve heard about “The Great Resignation.” Here’s the gist of it, just in case: So many workers have left their jobs and forged new career paths over the course of the pandemic that employers in nearly every field are struggling to fill positions and keep their operations up and running. 

Among our career counseling and coaching clients, there are so many reasons for this, from difficulty finding child care, to burnout, to working conditions that feel unsafe. But for many, the pandemic has brought something else into focus: awareness about what’s actually important to them, what they want to be doing with their time, and how they really feel about their work. 

I believe this is an expression of post-traumatic growth, and it’s one of the few silver linings of the past two years. When we live through traumatic events, we tend to emerge with new clarity about what really matters, and we can use that insight to change our lives for the better. And your career is an excellent place to start — we spend an enormous chunk of our lives at work, and I hope that you’ll do everything you can to choose work that feels meaningful, rewarding, and worthwhile to you. 

If the pandemic has inspired you to consider a big career change, this article is for you. I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is Dr. Lisa S., a past president of the National Career Development Association, former director of career services at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a career counselor and coach here at Growing Self. You can tune in on this page, Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen. 

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Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

If the pandemic has you questioning whether you’d be happier in a different job, or on a different career path entirely, you may be an excellent candidate to join the Great Resignation — or benefit from it, whether or not you actually quit your job. 

Millions of American workers have left their jobs over the course of the pandemic, and this reshuffling of the workforce has created new opportunities for job seekers in many fields. If you’re considering a big career change, the Great Resignation may be your moment. 

What is the Great Resignation? 

Since the onset of the pandemic, an unprecedented number of workers have voluntarily left their jobs. Career experts call this phenomenon the Great Resignation, AKA the “Big Quit,” and say it signals a major shift in our attitudes toward work. 

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic may be this time to reflect on what’s most important to us, and how we’d really like to be spending our time. If you’re considering a career change amidst the Great Resignation, you’re in great company — and your timing is impeccable. 

Great Resignation Statistics

Nearly four million workers quit their jobs every month in 2021, the highest monthly average since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping records in 2000. The trend peaked in November with 4.5 million quits — a staggering three percent of the total American workforce. 

This produces a great climate for job seekers, who will find many open positions and many employers willing to make concessions on salary, location, and other conditions in order to attract workers. 

Reasons for the Great Resignation

Why are so many people quitting their jobs en masse? 

No one can say for sure what’s driving the Great Resignation. But many people have arrived in career counseling because, after a period of introspection during the pandemic, they’re starting to see their careers through a new lens — and to question whether they’re really content with their “life’s work” such as it is. There’s data to back up this observation too; a survey by Indeed found that 92 percent of Great Resigners say “Life is Too Short to Stay in a Job You’re Not Passionate About.” 

In the midst of a public health crisis, people are not only sacrificing their time for work, but also in many cases their safety, which calls into question whether or not the tradeoff is really worth it. If you’re not doing what you love, chances are it’s not. 

Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation 

The news is full of headlines about workers leaving their jobs and employers struggling to fill positions. For any worker who’s not totally content where they are, this moment presents an opportunity to get unstuck and find something better. 

If you’re not paid what you should be, not happy with what you’re doing, or you’re feeling stuck in a toxic workplace, this could be the time to make your move. During a labor shortage, workers have the upper hand, and your chances of getting hired elsewhere are good. 

Finding Meaning Through Work

Many people have quit their jobs not just because of the pay or working conditions, but because they’ve realized their work isn’t really their passion. Ultimately, it’s hard to feel passionate about anything that’s not attached to any greater meaning for you. 

So, how can you find work that feels meaningful, if you’re currently in a career that feels pointless, uninteresting, or empty? Getting in touch with your core values is a great place to start. Maybe you value creativity, or service to others, or teamwork, and there’s a career out there that would allow you to live out those values more closely. Find out what you value, and you’ll find out what motivates you and ultimately what makes work feel meaningful. 

Making the Great Resignation Work for You

If you have goals for your career, it’s important to be proactive about them. Wandering from one job to another without a clear outcome in mind is unlikely to lead you where you’d like to go. 

The Great Resignation and the labor market it’s created is an opportunity to reflect on the current state of your career, reimagine what’s possible, and make a bold, strategic move that sets you up for a bright career future.  

Episode Show Notes:

[02:53] The Great Resignation of 2021

  • The pandemic has produced an overwhelming workforce turnover, with 4.5 million workers resigning from their jobs in November 2021 alone.
  • Many employees who left their jobs say they feel life is too short for work they aren’t passionate about.
  • With so many ways to earn income, people don’t need to settle for jobs they dislike.

[10:34] Developing Your Passion

  • A sense of mastery arises when you’re good at what you do. This can be incredibly rewarding. 
  • The silver lining of the pandemic is that people have found time to reflect on their ideal pursuits. 

[31:37] Growth Opportunities in Leadership

  • Some employers choose to just reassign their employees instead of firing them.
  • Recurring self-doubt makes it hard to pursue your career goals. Counseling can help. 
  • If you desire positive outcomes in your career, you need to be proactive about seeking them out.

Music in this episode is by Love, with the song “Red Telephone.” 

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Seizing the Opportunity of the Great Resignation

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: On this episode of the podcast, we are talking about the great resignation, and more importantly, what it means for you and how to use this moment as an opportunity to maybe reevaluate what you have been doing in your own career, and talk about where you might want to go next. To join me in this conversation, once again, I’m visiting with my colleague, Dr. Lisa S.. 

Dr. Lisa is an expert career counselor. She’s a past president of the National Career Development Association and a past president of the Colorado Career Development Association. She was the Director of Career Services at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the author of numerous book chapters on the subject of career counseling. Today, she’s here to share her wisdom with you to understand what is going on in the world around us as it relates to career. 

I think both of our goals for today’s conversation is for you to listen to this episode and hopefully leave it with some new ideas, and at least even new questions to be asking yourself to help you get clarity on what you really want to be doing with your career — and by extension, your life. Dr. Lisa, thank you so much for joining me again today.

Dr. Lisa S.: Oh, thank you. It’s my pleasure.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, I really appreciate your time. I have to tell you, I got so much wonderful feedback from the last podcast that you and I recorded together a while ago on your thoughts about how to use narrative techniques to get clarity around starting a new chapter. That was just so helpful to many of my listeners, so thank you.

Lisa S.: Thank you. That was a lot of fun. I’ve heard from a lot of people as well. That’s always wonderful to get that feedback.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, you have a lot of great wisdom to share. I invited you back, of course, to talk about today. As you know, there’s so much in the news lately —- this idea about the great resignation they’re calling it, which is people leaving their jobs in pursuit of we hope something better, something more meaningful. 

It’s like a reshuffling of the deck. There are people leaving positions, but also a lot of people coming into new ones, just as an extension of that. First of all, as a career counselor, you’re sitting with people day in and day out as they’re sort of grappling with these big, “What do I do with my life?”, kinds of questions. What do you make of this?

Lisa S.: It’s definitely been interesting. The word I use most often with clients is, “The job market’s just really weird right now.” I should probably come up with something much more wise.

Lisa Marie Bobby: But seriously, in all seriousness, you’ve been a career counselor for a long time. How is this weird or different than historically what you have experienced?

Lisa S.: Just as a marker if you will, I’m very curious to see what the total 2021 numbers are. They’re not quite out yet from the Department of Labor. But in November, 4.5 million workers quit their job. A million of those were in leisure and hospitality — your quintessential customer service roles. That’s 3% of the whole workforce in terms of turnover and why recruiters and other folks who hire going kind of nuts — 3% of the entire workforce. That’s just amazing. Assuming that the trend continued into December, those are records.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I mean, forgive me. I’m so ignorant here. I don’t even have a frame of reference. What’s typical?

Lisa S.: That’s a really good question.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I have to cite statistics… significantly more than —

Lisa S.: Absolutely. Unemployment tends to hang around 5—6%. Depending on where you are in the country, that may vary greatly. But 3% of the whole workforce turning over is just amazing. Yeah. I don’t know if you’re the same, but just anecdotally — walking around, or trying to order things online, or trying to go to your restaurant that’s closed, or changed hours — nobody has the help that they need right now. It is an interesting piece. 

I think a huge part of that is reading a survey that Indeed did have the workers that take part in their social media/professional website with job seekers, and they did one back in March, and 92% of the respondents said the pandemic made them feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren’t passionate about. To me, that was huge. Because oftentimes — I can remember when you were talking about sort of historically where does this fit. 

I remember back in 2005, 2006. I was working at the university at the time. That was when the recession hit. People were having a very difficult time finding jobs. The first thing that every article said was, “If you’re unemployed, contact your alma mater.” Being at an alma mater, none of us were prepared for that. For the most part, we didn’t work with alums. That was a huge shift in terms of helping people to find jobs. 

But it was nothing like this — which is not just about high-level of unemployment, or inflation, and those kinds of pieces to me. There’s been a shift in terms of, “Not only am I going to give you my time, but I may be sacrificing my safety.” There may be other things that are going on, like childcare that’s really hard. People have — I think, that part is really key in terms of, “I have to really want to do this, or I’m not going to”, which was, I think, very rare before and is becoming more and more common.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, that’s one of my big takeaways from our last conversation is your observations about this trend towards empowerment that people do feel this greater sense of agency and choice. I think this idea that is really coming back into the collective consciousness that our careers are — I don’t mean this in a hyperbolic way — truly are our life’s work in many ways. I know some people have careers that are supporting other aspects of their life. 

They are actually just earning a paycheck so that they can do what is meaningful in other parts of their life. But I think for a lot of people, and I’m included in this, it is our life’s work, and to find that meaning, and passion, and value in that. Do you feel like that is a newer thing in the sense that people almost have permission to do this in a way that they didn’t before? Or is it because of that introspective period from the pandemic?

Lisa S.: It’s very interesting. I think it’s a combination, of course, of a lot of different things that are all happening concurrently. But I do think that underlying piece of — at this point, it has to be more. It has to be more than a paycheck, especially as people have become creative about how they do income, how they earn income, and those kind of pieces that they don’t necessarily have to settle anymore. So, why are they going to? 

In our culture, especially, but I think it’s true in a lot of places. Work is the way we connect with the world. We even talk about it as that “work-life balance: as if those are two very separate, very different things. The pandemic that sent everybody home, and the estimate is about half of us then worked from home, and about half of the careers out there are not careers you can do from home. That shifted. 

It would be very interesting to see how it’s going to shift back if and when we return to some different — people say “return to normal”. I’m not sure normal is really the goal, but whatever — it looks like moving forward and to see what that looks like. Again, if we do have this sort of stronger mingling of home and work that the pandemic has brought about, what is that going to look like moving forward? How do we build in those things that we’re passionate about and where that comes from? 

I mean, I think in terms of that — we got to a place and it seems like natural progression where we got to a place where work really consumed us and was kind of unbalanced in terms of the role it took in our life.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Glorified even in the culture, really.

Lisa S.: Then, when other things came up, people are worried about getting COVID, of course — especially before vaccines. But even now, that’s not a universal thing that people do, so it stays with us. Childcare is nuts. I don’t have kids. I know you do. That’s a piece — it’s crazy. When paying for childcare became more expensive than what you were able to earn, that was so crazy. Of course, then — that left, and that’s still a challenge. 

I think that the competition for workers, as he said, “If you go to restaurants now, and you have to wait. There’s open tables, but they don’t have enough servers.” That people are leaving because people feel confident that they’re going to be able to find something better now. It’s all out there in the news. Everybody’s leaving their jobs. Well, if I think my job is is pretty bad, I’m pretty sure I can find a better one. 

If you don’t pay well, and you don’t have good working conditions, people are out of there — which I see as a silver lining in terms of outcomes from this particular job market that it’s equalizing salaries and working conditions, especially in low wage working opportunities. That’s fabulous. I really hope that that sticks with us.

Lisa Marie Bobby: That would be such a positive thing. But it’s interesting what you were saying, too. It’s like people are leaving. But I think for many people — who aren’t in low-wage situations who are just seeking better opportunities. There are also a lot of people who are leaving jobs in search of meaning, in search of that passion. 

Can you say more in your experience? If somebody is listening to this and has been feeling their chosen career has been lacking in that meaning that passion — in your experience, where do people find meaning in their work, passion in their work? What is it about work? 

I guess, what I’m asking is — is it certain kinds of jobs, or careers, or industries that are more meaningful than others? Or, is it sometimes mindset that helps create meaning in the work that you do? Where does that sense of meaning come from in your experience?

Lisa S.: It’s a great question. I would say in terms of the clients that I’ve worked with, some have had that experience of having a job. It’s interesting because oftentimes, as early on in their career, and it wasn’t a particularly prestigious position, or a big title, or a huge paycheck — but they have that sense of flow. When you’re in a job, and you’re kind of moving between tasks, and you feel that sense of expertness, “I actually know what I’m doing. I can do this.” 

That passion, then, comes from that. Or, they’re working for a particular cause that they’re passionate about. I always think of that with me. I feel so lucky to be able to do this work because I love hearing people’s stories. If I can be helpful in some way in that time, it just feels so good. You’re completely in that flow. If a client has had that experience, then we can kind of unpack all that and figure out where it came from.

If you’re not experiencing that now, why? What’s happened in the meantime? Life kind of happens — there’s career trauma, and there’s great supervisors, and there’s bad supervisors. Sometimes, you can promote yourself right out of being happy and dying yourself in a position where you’re a little bit trapped. The money’s good, the title’s good, the prestige is good — yet, you’re not doing the things that you really enjoy doing. 

That’s one set is to sort of recreate the environment in which that happen. For some people, they’ve never felt that. Work has always been a struggle. They’ve never felt that kind of passion. I think of it kind of as a blank slate. “Let’s go back to the beginning. If it hasn’t been worked, find other examples of when you’ve had that experience in your life and what you can bring forward.” 

I do think that this wacky time period in our collective history of the pandemic has, as you said, given people permission to say, “You know what? I don’t like this at all.” Whether it’s a refocus on, “I want to bring something to the world. I want it to be meaningful — the work that I’ve done instead of just moving things from one side to another. I really want to build something.” Whatever the case may be. 

I do think that it’s been a time of great reflection, and people have really thought about, “Alright, I’m giving this my time, and potentially my health exposure and my family, and all of those pieces — it’s got to be worth it.” Again, I feel like that’s kind of a silver lining of the time period because people are — they’re stressed up to here. If there’s something that they can do to make a change, to really bleed into all of those other pieces of their life — that they’re taking the time to do that. I think it’s a wonderful — again, weird outcome of this time period.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Weird, but maybe understandable. As we’re talking, I’m thinking right now this idea of post-traumatic growth. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that — that might be more of a psychology term than a career term. But this thing that we see oftentimes is — we think of post-traumatic trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, that something bad happens or scary happens, and that there’s this, “Never the same!” 

Actually, the moral of the truth is that when people do live through really hard, awful things, there’s often a lot of like growth and personal reflection, like making contact with core values and sort of a reset of priorities that on the other side of those traumatic life experiences. There’s an enormous amount of growth and positive change that sometimes never would have happened had that person not gone through that.

I was just sort of thinking the same thing like that kind of collective trauma, especially when it was really intense like shutdowns, people are looking at this existential like, “Am I going to die if I leave the house without a mask on?” Like that whole thing — and just how reflective that makes you. The connection that I’m hearing you say too — that meaning and happiness in work, that sometimes it can come from mastery, feeling just really good like you’re surfing on top of the wave and know exactly what to do in that flow experience. 

But that the other piece of meaning that you talked about was very much attached to that, like core personal value. For you, you were saying, “It’s around that helping value.” For others, that might be the building value. I’ve talked to so many creative people — and for many of them, it’s just the opportunity to create things, to have had ideas and sort of actualized them, that the act of creation is very meaningful. 

That’s what I’m hearing you say is that to either figure out what that is based on your historical experiences — or if it is a blank slate, try to find that basic value, that pillar of meaning. Then, you can start to design a career around what would allow you to be helpful — what would allow you to build something; what would allow you to create. Is that what I’m hearing you say? 

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That’s why to me, the narrative work fits so well because it is designed around identifying what those themes are. I think this time period, in addition to the fact that people just did have more time on their hands because we weren’t supposed to do things, especially in big groups and those types of things. But also, again, that that sense of reflection, I really do think that that sort of theme around — we all now feel like life is short. 

Before, we kind of had become somewhat complacent about what that looks like, “I really don’t like my job. I’m playing the lottery most weeks. So, I’m trying to find something new. But it’s fine, it pays the bills.” We kind of do get stuck in that. This whole period of time has been a major shake-up of those kinds of things, like, “Do I even like what I’m doing anymore? Do I like the people that I work with? Am I feeling positive?” 

I think about is that most jobs are stressful, but it isn’t the type of stress that you actually want to engage in and find a challenge, and is sort of thrilling stress versus the, “I don’t want to get up this morning. I feel a little nauseous Sunday nights because I don’t want to go to work on Monday.” If it’s given us permission in a way to kind of step back and say, again, “Life is short. I want to enjoy what it is that I’m doing.” 

For a lot of people, that’s been retirement, which has been sort of interesting too like, “I want to do it on my own terms. I’m not so sure I can do it through work, I’ll do it through volunteering or when we are allowed to, again, traveling.” Those types of pieces., “To me, it’s not worth it anymore. If my plan was to retire in 10 years — hey, maybe I do that now.” 

I think it’s not only the great resignation — not only people moving from job to job, but I think there are some that are like, “You know what? I think I’m good. I’m out.” So that’s been interesting too.

Lisa Marie Bobby: That is interesting that it isn’t always people leaving one situation and moving into another, but really just sort of questioning the idea of working for compensation entirely — that I’m going to expend my energy doing things just because I want to do them.

Lisa S.: Absolutely. I think that’s been some changes well, which is a little bit different. We haven’t quite touched on it yet. But there are certainly patterns in terms of where people are leaving as well. I mean, I mentioned leisure and hospitality — certainly, the customer service angle. For some people, there are a lot of really kind-hearted and generous people out there who started tipping three times as much as they had before and really recognize.  

There are other people who have taken their own personal stress out on other people. I think in leisure and hospitality, that’s been a big piece. But also, obviously, with people traveling less frequently, and those types of issues — there’s also been downsizing in those fields as well. But some of the other ones like health care and teaching, I really can’t. 

I have a number of teachers that I’m working with right now. Their lives have just been nuts over the last few years — totally changing the way that they teach from in-person to online, managing what that looks like, seeing directly into kids’ homes and what that looks like… Just the level of change, and again, putting their own health and safety at risk. That piece that used to be a great sense of accomplishment for them and sense of purpose and meaning, and now is just the frustration has overwhelmed all of that. 

I think, again, in health care and teaching, and then hospitality and customer service, there are also folks that are like, “I’ve done what I can do, but I can’t take it anymore and I’m ready to move on to whatever is next.” It’s been interesting to hear people’s stories talk about your career trauma. For a lot of people, that’s been really difficult. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: Because that was something, in the last podcast, that we sort of touched on and didn’t really have time to fully explore. But that the idea of career trauma is so real. I think it doesn’t get enough acknowledgment or like airtime just in the general zeitgeist. But like, when you were just talking about people in the health care professions or educators — there’s the work itself, but they’re also, in some ways, battling these very large systems that are in place around — 

Certainly, public education or large hospital systems. I’m curious to know, when you talk to people who are really coming out of positions or careers that were traumatizing for them, is that sort of a pattern in what you see? Are there big systems? Or, is it more really toxic relationships with leaders or supervisors? What have you noticed with that over the years?

Lisa S.: That’s a great question. I think the answer is both. I mean, certainly, absolutely — now, you can hear the systemic pieces. I’ve talked to people who actually are on the East Coast, so they’re in a position where they can work in, say three different states, depending on where they live. They’ll change because of the leadership in that state. They’ll look for a job in another because the system is so different. 

The Department of Education, even just the governor’s office looks really different from everything — from mask mandates to vaccines, and everything else. The systemic stuff, absolutely, is a problem for folks, and how that looks like, what it looks like, how it plays out. It’s very interesting. There’s also, as you mentioned, the relationship piece. 

I hear all the time people are being basically bullied at work by supervisors and peers. There’s a power dynamic there as there is in systems too, of course. But individually, a power dynamic where something’s going on, and there can be a bazillion underlying reasons: bosses who feel threatened, bosses who really are incompetent, they take that out on their supervisees — there’s a lot — and just people who are naturally bullies. 

There’s still not a whole lot people can do about it. There are more and more systems put in place for sexual harassment, which is great. Still, I think not necessarily all that helpful. If you’re in a bad situation where you’re going to work every day and somebody, usually not literally, is beating you down, that’s something you need to get out of. Absolutely, there are parallels with relationship work — friendships, families, partners, like all of the above. Sometimes, there’s some things that you can try to help it be better. But oftentimes, it’s just leaving. 

You can get HR involved in those sorts of things, but oftentimes that ends up making a situation — maybe it helps improve the system a little bit. We’ll cross our fingers and hope that’s true. But this situation by then is so uncomfortable that really the only way you can handle it is to move to something better. It’s balancing that out. I always kind of tread lightly in terms of that because I want to help someone fight the fight if that’s what they want to do. 

Absolutely, how can I support you in doing that? Also support people who are like, “I just got to get out of here.” Fine. Let’s do that. Sometimes, that’s parallel work. But I think if you’ve got someone with a little bit of work experience and ask them about, “What has been your best situation at work? What has been the worst?” Everybody has horror stories about people they’ve worked with, or systems they’ve worked in — exactly, as you said, supervisors that have been terrible — everybody has stories. 

Just like as in any other kind of trauma, how do you integrate that into your story moving forward is so important. Does that become energy for moving forward? Does it make you a better supervisor because you now know what not to do in terms of your own clients? How can you build on that and integrate it in so that it’s not dragging on you moving forward, but becomes part of your growth? 

Exactly, as you said — it’s an interesting challenge, but most people, I think, get excited about that idea, “Hold on, this doesn’t necessarily just need to be baggage I carry with me for the rest of my life — but I can find a place for it, learn from it if I can, and then move on without it.” I think ultimately, that’s the goal. But certainly, yeah… 

Just reading the news about stories over the last few years. Again, you can read great stories about the wonderful things that happened, and just awful stories, especially in healthcare and teaching, and customer service, and all kinds of areas.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, let me ask you this, though. Because I don’t specialize in career work the same way that you do because I think careers are such a large part of everybody’s life. I do often, when I’m working with my private clients — we do talk about, sometimes, the things that they’re experiencing in their jobs. 

Oftentimes, it is, “I like what I’m doing but there’s the supervisor who has unreasonable expectations.” Or, like you say, beating people down — a lot of negativity, even like aggression, not physical aggression, but like that sort of emotional aggression. It can be hard to change jobs. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it’s not as black and white. People might have other reasons for wanting to stay and work it out like go into a relationship. 

I guess, I’m curious to know — have you ever seen it get better for people who are in a situation where they have an aggressive, weirdo supervisor, and they have been able to either do something or have a courageous conversation or affect positive change so that it gets better? Or, are you always with people like, “Just pull the ripcord. Just get out of there.”? What do you say to that?

Lisa S.: Just to be real. It is rare if you have that situation. It’s rare. I think people stick around for a number of different reasons. Again, not unlike many relationships. One, you can look at somebody’s history, especially within a company, and it could be they’ll move along. Sometimes, people stay because they’re sort of waiting it out, especially if it’s a supervisor who’s kind of bounced around to different areas. That is a strategy that people have to kind of wait. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: Last man standing. 

Lisa S.: Some of that, again, is values-based because I think a lot of people are incredibly dedicated to their jobs, their clients, their co-workers, the actual content of the work that’s being done. I think there’s the sense — and I totally get this of, “I don’t want to let all those people down because of this jackass.” But at the same time, I do think that it’s worth having a conversation because generally, it doesn’t really make it worse of just sharing with a supervisor — and I’ve practiced this with clients quite a bit of how to have that conversation. 

Like not from a place of, “You need to change. But I can tell you, I will be more productive and would thrive if we could talk about this.” Or, “If you could share feedback this way.” Or, whatever the conduct is to kind of take it into a place. For example, someone who calls you out in a meeting for something that you’ve done, and chastises you in public in front of other people and those kinds of things. To be able to talk about that — I’ve had experienced that in the past, and I can tell you, it is not helpful. 

Having that conversation and sort of thinking about it. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it works for a period of time, and then oftentimes goes back. But then you can remind people, if it’s a small organization, and someone knows the supervisor’s supervisor, or there’s actually a process in HR for making a complaint, that is a strategy as well. At least it goes on the record so that if you do end up leaving but three co-workers down the line, HR finally sees a pattern. 

That may be helpful. But generally, it makes the person more angry because they feel like you’ve gone around behind their back. I do think the best strategy is to go but to somehow provide that feedback at some point, even if it’s in an exit interview of, “I love everything about this organization or this company, but I’m leaving because of this person.”

Lisa Marie Bobby: Kevin.

Lisa S.: Exactly. I know people don’t like to burn bridges, and all of those kinds of pieces. But again, patterns are important. If nobody’s saying anything, it could be everybody’s having the same experience with Kevin, but nobody’s saying anything. That’s kind of a problem too.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, and a growth opportunity because I think too — many, many people in leadership positions are very focused on the work itself and pressure that is coming maybe from higher-ups on them. In my experience, they do not have a ton of awareness about how they are making other people feel. 

I think that’s why, especially in our practice here on Growing Self over the years, we’ve started doing so much emotional intelligence coaching for leaders and managers because people — Kevin — shows up and is like, “I’ve had four people leave, and they’re telling this is the feedback, and I don’t even know what they’re talking about. So can you help me with this?” 

Says like, “Yes!” Then, we can kind of dig it, and it turns into a very positive growth experience. Maybe, not for the people who leave, but the people who come after because I think a lot of leaders and managers do really have personal growth work to do. They don’t unless somebody says something, they really, legitimately do not know that it’s about them.

Lisa S.: I absolutely agree because I think that’s huge. I mean, obviously, some people are just jerks, and they’ve gotten — whether their contact… Maybe they’re content experts — I don’t know. But they continue. The other thing is that, unfortunately, there’s this weird thing, as you’re talking about systems, where one way to get rid of someone without firing them is to promote them or move them to another place… 

Lisa Marie Bobby: I never thought about that. 

Lisa S.: Oh, my goodness! It’s definitely — it’s an issue. I can solve my own problem by moving Kevin elsewhere. But he gets promoted, and now he’s supervising other people. It looks like he’s phenomenal because he’s had all these promotional opportunities when really, it’s just people trying to get rid of him. 

I think that happens in systems all the time — like kind of wary about this, “Are you that good? Or, are you getting shuffled?” So that is an interesting thing. Again, there’s nothing that a subordinate can do about that. It’s got to come from the system, or from that person recognizing, or somebody’s supervisor recognizing that they really need to do some work.

I agree. I think not everybody, of course. But most people are open to that in terms of that work because sometimes they’re given feedback in they go, “What? What do you mean bully? I’m not a bully.” Let me align your behavior. It’s an interesting process, but it’s just so hard to be in that position where that’s happening to you. There’s not a whole lot you can do to make this situation better. You really just need to take what amazing things that you have to offer and find someone who can appreciate them.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Well, I agree with you. Maybe, you could speak to this piece of this. I think it takes a fair amount of confidence and connection with your own self worth to say, ”I am going to take all my gifts and things that I’ve learned, and take this to somebody who will appreciate me.” Because in my experience sometimes, especially for people who tend to struggle a little bit with depression or anxiety anyway, will — just like being in a toxic romantic relationship or with a parent or a friend. 

When they do live through a toxic occupational relationship with Kevin, they come out the other side feeling like they’ve done something wrong, or, “If I were better, if I was more talented, if I were a better communicator, I could have made it work with Kevin.” It damages their self-esteem. It makes them doubt themselves. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That’s why I like the coaching mode so much because when people think about career stuff, they think about sort of strategy, and job titles, and resumes, and interviewing, and all of those kind of concrete pieces. But so many people that I work for, I look at their credentials and think, “Oh, my God. This is fantastic. You have such a unique set of skills.” And what people see instead is, “Okay, but I don’t match the criteria that somebody is posted as preferred qualifications.” I think that’s because they don’t know that you’re out there. 

There’s so many pieces that are about that. But when you add in — so I do focus a lot on self-esteem and getting rid of the recurring messages of self-doubt, not, “I’ll never get this job. I’m not good enough.” Absolutely, you never apply, you’re never going to get that job. You’re right. That’s the way that it works. 

But I do think that tie up the anxiety and depression that I’m really unpacking a little bit — how much of that is tied to the current work situation, versus I struggle with that in every aspect of my life, and this is how it’s showing up at work. Those things are really difficult to untie, but it’s so important to focus on because if you’re having that horrible, toxic environment at work, you’re going to bring that home. 

Again, right now, half the people are working from home, so you’re in it — in your own house, and it’s impacting your other relationships, your relationships with your kids, all of that. Who has energy when they’re having all of their energy sucked by a work situation? Figuring out kind of where all of those pieces come from, and how to best address it: 

“Is it really situational and contextual, and being caused by this work problem? Or, is it something underlying that I need really some help in working through more consistently because it’s showing up everywhere? It’s showing up at work, and showing up at home, and it’s really become, for me, kind of a systemic thing that I really then need to go a little bit deeper, and figure out kind of the core of those, and hopefully — high tide raises all boats — all of those situations then get a little bit better.

Lisa Marie Bobby: I hear what you’re saying. It sounds like it’s kind of a chicken and an egg thing that there are some situations… Like if you’re in a toxic relationship with your boss, Kevin, and it is making you feel bad, it is making you feel bad about yourself, it’s making you question yourself — you’re saying that one strategy is to kind of look at the context, and that can be a way to recenter yourself if you’re able to say: 

“Actually, it’s really specific to this relationship. I didn’t feel this way about myself until I started working here, and being able to identify the source of that is a way to understand these feelings are coming from these external circumstances.” 

Maybe, not a sweeping statement about your self-worth. That could be one point of strength. But then the other thing that I’m hearing you say is that if there are predispositions to things like anxiety and depression — and then I think this is probably we’re saying out loud because I think that maybe many people don’t really understand that the way that we feel changes the way that we think and the way that we perceive things — because I think that it’s very easy for we humans to sort of make a causal, “Well, this thing happened, therefore I feel bad.” Whereas what’s true in depression and anxiety — you feel down or you feel scared, and therefore, you find reasons to support that feeling. It’s kind of like that internal versus external piece — what you’re saying, Dr. Lisa is that if it’s more like a global thing, and you feel this way in many areas of your life, that would be an indication that maybe it is actually depression or anxiety. Instead of trying to jump out of a job or break up with your boss or something, maybe the more valuable work would be to manage those feelings, and then see how you feel about your job once you’re in a better place overall.

Lisa S.: Sometimes that healing process is impossible in a current situation. Then, it’s a matter of resources. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: What do you mean? 

Lisa S.: I’m thinking, if you’re in a really toxic work environment, even if it is a more global struggles with anxiety and depression that you’re dealing with, you still may need to get out if it’s a kind of an emergency situation like, “It’s pulling me down to the point where I may be thinking about hurting myself.” Or, any of those kinds of pieces. You have to figure out the resources that you need to actually just leave as you would in a toxic — in any kind of toxic relationship. 

I often ask people — when just in the course of conversation, somebody says something that’s fairly negative about themselves, or their credentials for a job, or any of that kind of piece. I asked people, “Alright, whose voice was that?” Because whatever that statement was, “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t do my job” — like those kinds of pieces. Oftentimes, it is the boss, “Well, Kevin tells me that every day.” Kevin — set up camp in there. 

Part of that, as you said, that sense of empowerment is you need to stop listening to Kevin. It’s been long enough. Who knows where those voices come from? If you’ve been in job searches before, there’s a whole lot of rejection that goes along with that, right? Everybody’s talking about how great the job market is right now, how people are desperate for employees, but you could still send out hundreds of applications and never hear a thing, or a lot of rejection. You just have to kind of power through some of those things. 

But thinking about certain messages that now you’ve internalized of how to shut those off. They could be your fifth-grade English teacher who told you you couldn’t write, or — those voices come from so many places. Unfortunately, not all of them are positive. Interrupting that pattern can be really helpful. That self-doubt, “Oh, no. They’re not going to want me.” “Wait a second. Whose voice is that? Is it yours? Is it your depression? Your anxiety working against you? 

If you want positive things to happen, you need to be proactive about them. But you also need to think about — you just reinforced that message. It was planted by somebody else, but you’re now repeating it. How can we interrupt that process? It’s a huge part of the job search process. I find that a lot of people who make an appointment with me, and they don’t really know what they want to do. 

But when you start having a conversation, they know exactly what they want to do, but they don’t have the confidence or the logistical understanding, or there’s some obstacle that’s standing in their way. That’s kind of an interesting process like, “Hmm, sounds like you kind of do.” The question is, “How to make it happen?” Let’s go from there. That can be really fun too. But how many of us are our own worst enemies when it comes to those sorts of thoughts? It’s kind of amazing. 

Lisa Marie Bobby: That’s the hard part, isn’t it? 

Lisa S.: When I was working as a recruiter, my favorite question to ask people is — if it’s somebody who has various workers, “What would your last supervisor say about you?” Because it has people to sort of put their own like, “I’m not supposed to talk about myself”, and really think from a lens of other people. It’s sad that somehow we can advocate better for ourselves in the third person. 

But it was a question that kind of got at that for people. People, “Oh, they can rely on me. I’m always on time.” And all those things. If you were to say that right off the bat, it would feel uncomfortable. But when I’m thinking about, “What would Anne say about me?” Somehow, that’s an easier question. Working through some of those pieces to help people be strong advocates for themselves the way they would with anybody else, and do that for themselves. It’s amazing to me how hard that is.

Lisa Marie Bobby: What a wonderful idea, though. Just an easy, almost a hack to build up your confidence around, especially career stuff, especially if you have been feeling a little low lately, “What would Anne say about you?” Just to kind of reconnect with that because, yes — so many opportunities right now for people because of the great resignation and all the spaces it’s opened up. 

But I think my main takeaway from our conversation is that that also requires, not just clarity about what you want, what is meaningful for you, but also that confidence piece — that there are other opportunities for you, and you are worth it.

Lisa S.: Absolutely. That worth and deserving. It’s interesting to kind of unpack what those obstacles are, and some of them are new like, “Okay, I haven’t gotten out of my yoga pants in three weeks. How am I going to get in my suit for an interview?” Those types of pieces are just funny and really particular to the pandemic? But I did — I had a client that talked to me after one of their interviews, and they said, “At first, it was really awkward and hard. Then, all of a sudden, it was kind of like, ‘Hey, I do know what I’m talking about. I am good at this.’” 

How do we get that sense back into people, especially if they’ve had a lot of shuffling around in the last couple of years or have been fairly disconnected because of unemployment, or work structure and what that looks like, and the interviewing process is such a social process of how to get people kind of up and ready for that again. 

Embracing that piece of, “They’re lucky to have me. I hope this interview goes well because I can really make a difference for that organization.” We want everybody going into their interviews and life in general — but specifically interviews with that sense of, “I have something to offer, and we’ll see who gets to take advantage of that.”

Lisa Marie Bobby: Yes. What a beautiful idea for us to end on. They’re lucky to have you. You could do so much for them who is going to win the prize of getting to work with you. 

Lisa S.: Absolutely, that’s the goal.

Lisa Marie Bobby: What an inspiring conversation, Dr. Lisa. Thank you so much for doing this with me. This was wonderful.

Lisa S.: My pleasure, always. Thank you.

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