What to Do When You're Feeling Blue, or Blah, About Work
Almost everyone deals with a stall or slump at some point in their career. I’ve had days, weeks, even months when I’m unmotivated at work. Left unchecked, that "blah" or low feeling bleeds over into my personal life before I realize that something needs to change. Work is such a big part of life; I want to love my job, and believe that everyone should do work that they enjoy.
Despite this core belief that everyone should have a job they love, there have been times when I really didn’t like my job at all. As a district manager at Starbucks, there were always plenty of employee and customer challenges -- but after doing the job for so long, I found that I wasn’t learning much from them.
Sometimes circumstances outside your control can sap your motivation. For me, going through an acquisition was one such circumstance. Almost everyone around me was either stressed about losing their job or stressed about keeping their job amidst big changes to company culture and values. It was hard to focus on the positive impact I could still make in my role.
People struggle with all kinds of things at work that make them feel powerless or disconnected: a controlling boss, unattainable goals, lack of community, mindless work, skills that are becoming obsolete, etc. Large or small, these things are enough to make a person feel unengaged and unmotivated at work.
So, what can you do when you’re feeling blue at work?
When you are in a slump, you could employ the strategies of the powerless: ignore your feelings, wait and hope for a change, blame others or engage in some magical thinking -- hoping someone or something saves you from the situation you’re in.
Or, you could ask yourself, “What can I do about this situation?” and work to get yourself to a better place. If you’d prefer the latter, try these tips for regaining your motivation.
1. Take stock of your energy.
When was the last time you felt really energized about work? What was happening then? What’s different now? Think about what you can reinstate or change to get re-energized.
2. Separate facts from feelings.
Oftentimes motivation isn’t about the situation, it’s about how you view it. List out the facts and then identify the way you feel about the facts. Naming your emotions can move your thinking away from reactive, negative or fearful emotions to a more open and curious state -- and that allows you to explore different ways of viewing your situation. Sometimes you’ll find that while the situation is still the same, your take on it has changed dramatically.
3. Tap into your community.
Getting connected to people who do similar work or have similar interests can make you feel connected and feel less isolated. If your work is short on meaning, see if you can find a new purpose by helping others as a mentor, thought partner or collaborator. Emotion is contagious, so be deliberate in finding positive people to affiliate with. Surrounding yourself with pessimists or cynics when you’re already feeling low is not going to restore your motivation.
4. Take care of yourself.
This is especially important if others rely on you. During challenging or uninspiring times, you can boost your energy and resilience by getting enough sleep, regular exercise and spending time with family and friends. Accomplishing things for yourself can also put work challenges in perspective.
5. Find your purpose.
You might draw inspiration from the purpose of your company or team. For example, Glassdoor’s mission to help jobseekers find jobs and companies they love is inspiring to me personally. The work I do has purpose: building organizational and individual capabilities. If you need to be reminded of why your work matters, check in with your customers. What impact is your work having on them?
6. Look out for your self-interests.
This may appear to be at odds with tip #5, but it’s not. If you can do more of what you love and more of what you’re good at, your company will reap the benefits in increased productivity, longevity and commitment. The best scenario is doing more of the things that further both your goals and the company’s goals.
For example, if you really love data but most of your time is spent on customer issues, carve out some time to track the issues and see what the possible causes or correlations are. There’s a clear benefit to your company and your customers. And you may even create demand for your analysis and be able to dedicate more time to customer insights in the future.
7. Learn something new.
People and organizations must change or they will stagnate. Either seek out learning and development on your own or ask your network for advice. Let your manager know if you feel like you’re plateauing and in need of a new challenge. Solicit feedback about how to make a bigger impact in your current role, and what to work on to reach your next goal.
8. Explore other options.
Sometimes you do have to make a major change. If you’ve tried all of the above and are still feeling stuck in a bad situation, it may be time to explore other options. Explore lateral moves at your own company and check out what’s available outside too -- then you can make an educated choice about what’s best for you, and not feel like you’re a hostage to your situation. Putting your resume together can also give you a boost when you see in print how much you have learned and accomplished in your current job.
Related: How to Ace Your Next Interview
It can be rough when you’re at a low point and feeling uninspired at work. While you can’t always change your circumstances -- for example, I couldn’t change the fact that my company got acquired -- you can do a great deal by reframing how you view the situation and thereby change your response to it. You can also give yourself a boost by taking action on the things you can change. Sometimes that means changing jobs, but often the solution is to make small but meaningful adjustments to your perspective and your approach.