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Stuck in a loveless relationship with your job

To move on or not to move on, that is the question


"You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it
Don't say that later will be better
Now you're stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it"
- Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of (U2) -

THERE comes a time in your relationship when the spark fizzles out and you are left nitpicking at details that never bothered you before. What used to fulfil you has become a daily chore and you start seeing better options elsewhere. You wonder: Should I move on?

No, I'm not talking about your other half, but your job, of course. (If your partner came to mind, I suggest you get that sorted pronto).

While careers and personal relationships can hardly be compared on the same scale, the tell-tale signs of dissatisfaction are somewhat similar. If you find yourself going through the motions, dreaming of being anywhere but here, and growing increasingly resentful yet trapped, you are likely stuck in a rut.

The good news is that it is surprisingly common, say observers. No career - or relationship, for the matter - is on a constant growth trajectory. There are peaks, there are the valleys, and then there are plateaus.

But the bad news is that pulling yourself out of the rut takes work.

This week, we find out why workers get stuck in the hamster wheel of discontentment and what it takes to escape.

For a start, it would be helpful to know that getting stuck in the doldrums could happen to anyone - even high-performers.

"This feeling can occur even if one were doing well in their career trajectory," says Stephen Wang, managing director of Talent Plus, Asia Pacific.

While it is "not uncommon" for workers to feel stuck, the experience for each individual is different and uniquely personal, he notes. While it is often used as a blanket term to describe disengagement, being stuck in a rut does not mean the same thing to everyone.

David Leong, managing director of PeopleWorldwide Consulting, says that there are various reasons behind this sentiment. Chief among them is the dissipation of motivation.

Motivation issues arise when individuals do not see visibility in their career track and do not know where they will go or whether they can move up, he says. This leads to the feeling of job stagnation and boredom. The second probable cause is the lack of career alignment with personal interest.

"A lot of people ended in jobs because it's the only available job at that time or because their parents or peer pressure forced them into the role," he observes. It is after they start working that they are forced to re-think their career as they simply lack the interest in it.

The final and more alarming reason is related to one's competency and bandwidth, where there is work overload or being unable to catch up with deliverables. This leads to a "high tension" situation where you are both helpless and hapless at your job, says Mr Leong.

The problem with getting stuck in a rut is that it's easy to remain there, even though it is a draining and unhappy experience. Mr Leong points out: "The biggest mistake is to continue on the role and to drift along in their career journey." He has seen many people get stuck for so long that they become mechanical and unthinking about their jobs, being neither productive nor committed as they watch their life pass by.

And waiting for bosses to notice your misery is taking a very passive approach to your own well-being. Hard as it might be, workers need to make the first step to pick themselves up.

Mr Leong suggests relooking at career options and deciding on a path that could bring some happiness to your work. This does not have to mean jumping ship to another company. Sometimes, it is just a matter of switching portfolios or taking on a new project.

"In such cases, the best way forward is to evaluate options and financial impact of leaving a familiar role to skill up to the next role or to negotiate with their superiors to find out if they can have a job rotation or realignment with KPIs," he says.

If that seems daunting, Talent Plus' Mr Wang proposes that employees start the process by talking to someone. It could be your manager, your family, your friends or even trusted colleagues to get insights on your situation.

"The purpose of speaking to someone is to have a support pillar as well as someone you can turn to for advice and mentorship or to bounce off options when needed," he says. "Cool heads always prevail in these circumstances."

Sometimes, we can get lost in our own headspace going down a negative downward spiral, so another perspective could be useful.

Next, he proposes having a clear goal or target of what one would like to achieve or attain. This provides clarity, and allows one to articulate specific needs and how you would like to have these objectives realised. This could be in the form of additional skills learning to allow career progression, or simply finding ways to transition to a new role elsewhere. Be it to stay or to go, it requires careful planning and advice from trusted mentors and peers.

On a final note, I tend to find that for most people, it is always a more exciting option to start on something new rather than to maintain a current relationship. It's easy to forget that fruitfulness must come with labour. Be it your career or relationship, it takes constant pruning - mundane daily toil - to make it work. The grass is not greener on the other side, it's greener where you water it.

While there are certainly valid reasons for one to move on, the decision should be based on careful consideration, and not a change in feelings. Take a moment to recall why you started in the first place.

Do your end goals still match? Is this based on a temporary funk, or are there deeper underlying issues that you need to resolve? What exactly are you unhappy about?

These are all fundamental questions that only you can answer. Just don't drag out everyone's misery and let it end up in a very acrimonious break-up.