Insider Secrets to be a Happy and Snappy Turk at Work

5 April, 2019

Picture this! You walk in your door after work. You’ve had an interesting, dynamic day with your work mates and you’ve still got plenty of energy left to kick on. After a quick change of clothes, you’re in the zone and having fun.

Sound like an impossible dream?

Not at all. There are concrete actions that you can take to significantly improve your hours at work.

The first revolves around a change of mind-set. The second is a simple tool that identifies those changes which give you the biggest bang for your buck. If you can get a handle on both of them, you have a pathway to being happier at work. 

Problem Finder or a Problem Solver: the choice is yours

One of our greatest sources of angst at work is how others treat us. When this aspect is not going well, it can poison our lives and those of others around us.

Josh and his evil work mate

One of my young family members is in his first serious role after many years of mundane jobs and a late completion of studies.

In his private life, ‘Josh’ is amazingly assertive and mature in his relationships with others.

Last week, for the second time, he entertained me with some amazing stories about the bad behaviour of one of his work mates.

Not only was this making him miserable, it also had the potential to damage him at work.  Yet, it was clear that Josh had no intention of trying to solve any of these issues. His focus was on eliciting sympathy from his listeners.

When I asked him a simple question, ‘Can you control what your work mate does?’ he answered ‘No’, somewhat reluctantly.  I then asked him to think through three actions HE was prepared to take to solve his problem.

If you talk to friends, family and colleagues about solutions, you will generally find a huge amount of support and suggestions to help you implement them effectively. Start with small, low risk steps, and over time it gets easier. 

Switch from energy sapping to energising

Back at work, it’s important to manage your reputation when it comes to problems with fellow workers. Most of us need a sounding board - someone we can trust and offload on.  Apart from this one person, however, make sure that you have the reputation as a Problem Solver not a Problem Finder.

Problem Finders suck the emotional energy out of those around them. Their favourite phrase is ‘Yes, but…’ generally followed by a reason they CANNOT do something. And, after a while, people avoid them.  They lose respect, which then damages their career.

When you are a Problem Solver, others are more likely to recommend you for interesting roles as they arise because their reputation will be tied up with you - a positive, can-do type of person.

In summary, when it comes to difficult work mates:

  • Develop specific ‘technical’ relationship skills, of the type found in Conflict Resolution training
  • Thrash out your proposed response with your supporters
  • Keep quiet about the issue to others at work

And then, just do it.

At a minimum, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you behaved bravely and with skill.  And, the oh-so-valuable Problem Solver halo will be yours forever.

Not sure how to make it to the next level?

Not that long ago I worked with someone who was very well regarded by her organisation.  She was the ‘go-to’ person, someone who would manage the latest project, take on a new product development plan or sort out a difficult problem. Let’s call her Linda.

The trouble was, Linda was bored. She loved the culture at her organisation and wanted to stay but it wasn’t going to happen unless some significant changes happened.  Because Linda was valued by her employer, she was given the opportunity to complete our five-hour Career Compass program. 

This is my absolute favourite work. During our sessions, we went back to the basics: we assessed Linda’s skills/interests, career values and personality profile.  We looked at current work trends.  And, because this program is personalised, we explored little career offshoots according to Linda’s personal circumstances.

It turned out that Linda wanted to move up to the next level of seniority in her company but had never been successful in winning an internal role.

There can be a range of reasons for this.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of how well you are able to sell yourself in interviews/résumés. Other times, it’s a case of better managing your work persona so that you come across as ‘management material’.

With no first hand knowledge of how Linda operated in the work environment, I suggested that she conduct a Gap Analysis.

Sometimes I get embarrassed about suggesting this simple tool, but I still find myself coming back to it again and again…

How does a Gap Analysis work?

There are three steps involved.

Step 1:

Linda constructed a list of 15 or so ‘things’ that were critical to be successful at the next level up.  Some related to qualifications, some revolved around personal attributes and others focused on technical/soft skills.

Linda had an excellent relationship with her Manager two levels up and with a Senior HR Consultant.  So, she checked the list items with them to see if they agreed with her choice.

Step 2:

Linda asked her two internal sources to weight each item on the list for importance, using a scale of one to ten. Items that were critical scored a ‘10’, less important items received a lower score. Linda then asked both people to rate her on each item on the list.  Here, the rankings were reversed and it is important to get the technique correct.  Linda received a LOW score for areas that she was strong in and a HIGH score for areas where she needed development/improvement.

Step 3:

For each item, Linda multiplied the importance-weighted score against her personal score. For example, one item ‘ability to influence others’ received a weighted score of 10. Linda’s personal score in this area was ‘8’ i.e. it was not rated as being one of her strengths.  Multiplying these two numbers gave a total of ‘80’.

Once all items were multiplied out, Linda was able to single out those with the highest score.  She decided to focus on three significant issues that were clearly holding her back.

After our last session, Linda walked out with three key tools that would give her a pathway: she understood career planning techniques, how to put a personal strategic plan into effect and how to develop a career marketing plan. But I suspect the most important ‘take-away’ was the good ol’ Gap Analysis.

Gaps are all in the mind

One of the headlines I could have chosen for this blog came from a Blog Headline Creation site. It read…

‘If You Want to be Happier at Work and Have It All but You Have Given Up... Here's Hope!’

I rejected it as being too crass. Still, Work makes up one of the three legs of our personal Life Stool (with the other two legs being Health and Relationships & Spirituality).  Switching to a Problem Solver mindset is about changing the nexus of control. And, Gap Analysis gives you a positive, practical strategy to achieve the change you desire.

Here, at The Career Consultancy, we brand all of our Instagram posts with the hashtag #whynotbehappyatwork.

So, over to you. Why not?


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ABOUT the author

Catherine Cunningham is Adelaide's leading career expert.  She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's Careers section, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au

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