When we set up some research to get a picture of how people were feeling about their work, we had a hunch it would reveal some despondency, but the findings showed the scale of the problem was a lot worse, with over 1 million managers & professionals saying they felt trapped in miserable low energy ruts.
This has spurred us on to start a national debate about dealing with this widespread but hidden problem. It goes without saying that unhappiness at work not only leads to a loss in productivity but can often seep into a negative impact on family life and the development of mental health problems, something we all-too-frequently encounter in our daily work as executives mentors.
Having 10% or more of your management team hating their job is a pretty big drag on any business, and yet our research found this is the norm across British organisations. Currently there is rightly a move to be much more open about mental health and wellbeing issues, but our experience is that too often organisations focus only on mopping up problems once they get really serious. Too little, too late?
The obvious route you might think for the disenchanted employee would be to move to another job, but for these people, who may have lost self-confidence, this route is filled with fear and consequently paralysis. It could mean a loss of status and income for their family, while the biggest reason for the over 50s is that they fear age discrimination will prevent them getting a job elsewhere. No wonder they are reluctant to move on – better safe, than sorry, albeit safe is making many of them miserable.
And what are employers doing? The normal approach when things get bad, which is potentially the worst for all concerned, is to side-line the employee or simply wait for them to retire. Wouldn’t it be better instead to help these employees to reboot and re-engage with their work? At least by talking about these issues openly with independent reviews, people would have the opportunity to regain fulfilment in their working life or maybe have a complete re-think and start out in a new career.
It’s great that this research has appeared to struck a chord with many organisations and professionals alike. There is clearly an urgent need to support the senior professionals, those at the top of the tree, who no longer get any fulfilment from their work and have started to hate it.The view to an alternative future can look deeply uncertain. So they get stuck. The trouble is when they get stuck, the whole organisation does too.