Feeling miserable at work? What to do if you’re stuck in a work rut

While most are happy at work, it’s essential that an unhappy minority are not left to fester. Kedge Martin, CEO Rutbusters warns that neglecting this avoidable issue not only leads to individual suffering, but that it can negatively impact the profitability and change management at a small business

Even the most successful business owner can become disillusioned with their work. I have worked with many who have lost professional purpose and fulfilment, and when this happens, sadly the work they previously thrived on quickly becomes torture.

Losing your work mojo when you run a business can be damaging for your health, your personal life and even the viability of your business.

It is a surprisingly common problem.

Overall our recent research* found over 14% of Britain’s directors, executives and senior managers (aged 40+) reported they “very often felt…stuck in a rut for quite a period of time”, with a further 10%+ who persistently felt “very demotivated” (12%), “low energy” (11%), “unfulfilled” (13%); and/or “trapped here” (13%).  An even larger number admitted to often feeling this way too.

The good news is that people working in small businesses are far more fulfilled and consistently happier than in medium and large-sized businesses. The bad news is that business owners are notably more likely to fall into a malaise, with nearly 30% saying they are very demotivated often or all the time.

As members of the sandwich generation, many business leaders find themselves pondering both the practical exigencies of the next 30 years, such as career and finances, as well as existential doubt about the role they should play and who they really want to be for the last third of their lives.

Is it any wonder that mental as well as physical health problems are growing in this age group?

Stress can have a disproportionate impact on SME business compared with larger firms, where prolonged periods of absenteeism from one person can affect the productivity of the entire team.

A recent report from the Mental Health Foundation showed that promoting wellbeing at work provided a return of 11:1 mainly due to reduced presenteeism (lost productivity that occurs due to an employee working while ill) and absenteeism (missing work due to ill health).

Regular and independent ‘rut reviews’ can prevent serious mental health issues arising with CEOs developing self-awareness, gaining clarity in their roles and objectives and releasing pressures.

Changing roles might seem an obvious answer, the reality is that for SME leaders a change of scenery would not automatically translate into fulfilment… it may simply be a case of new job, same problems. It is even more challenging if you’re a business-owner, selling up could be the end of your business dreams.

Here are some alternative strategies to help you bust out of an executive rut.

Share your thoughts

Work misery shouldn’t be a silent problem; if possible, share your concerns with those closest to you.  Talking to a professional coach/mentor, someone independent of your business and social network is critical to give you some perspective.  Being able to speak out loud to someone who has no pre-conceived ideas about who you are or what you should be doing, with no agenda other than to support you; someone who will give you non-judgemental feedback and help you figure out practical solutions to what might seem like overwhelming challenges, is hugely beneficial.

Review your values.

Values are the things that are most important to you in life; they are an expression of your real self.  The values that you had (and what motivated you) when you took the role or launched the business may be different to what’s important to you now. If so, this can mean that your work loses its meaning, and you lose your drive.

List your values, highlighting the most important ones which are vital to the next stage of your life.

Give your brain a break and have some digital detox time

Our thoughts and external environment can overwhelm our senses and cause our brains to get overloaded and overwhelmed.  Set aside some time to have silence – this might be the first two minutes on waking or just sitting in silence for one minute before your lunch; or take a walk at the weekend – without any sound.  Just two minutes will give your brain a break and allow space for creative thoughts to come through.

Allocate time to be disconnected from your phone – this could be post 2030 hours until the next day or all-day Sunday. Switch it off completely.  This allows you some space without electronics but also shows your brain that you are in control, self-determining and do not have to be ‘always on’ to respond other people’s demands.

If you are unable or don’t want to move jobs:

  • Consider how you can improve the current situation. What do you need?  A day working from home; delegating some of your responsibilities; taking on new projects
  • Build relationships with those around you; providing help to others often gives a great sense of purpose. Mentoring a young trainee can give you a whole new perspective on your company and get you reinvigorated
  • Get feedback from your team on how you can improve.

 If you want to move on:

 If you’ve had a crisis of confidence at work, switching jobs could seem the best answer but if you have failed to address the source of your misery you could be on the road to nowhere.  I’ve seen managers swapping one job for another very similar one and being surprised that within weeks they were just as unhappy but on higher pay. Take the time to consider this carefully before you start job hunting.

 Consider what you want this next stage to look like

 Dedicate some time to thinking and formulating a plan.  Think about how you would spend your time if money were no object, if other people’s opinions didn’t matter and what you would do if you knew you wouldn’t fail!

* The research was conducted on behalf of Rutbusters by accredited research agency Censuswide in May 2019 into 1,001 full-time employees with management responsibilities aged 40+.