Every job starts out from a positive perspective, whether that job represents hope, renewal, self-actualization, desperately needed income, or even a second chance. That initial momentum eventually shifts as a person settles into their job and becomes familiar with the requirements and expectations of the job, along with the working conditions, ethical standards, norms, and overall culture of the organization.
Throughout the process of becoming acclimated to a new job and working environment there will likely be unexpected situations and circumstances that come up, and that is when the reality of the job begins to settle in.
Over the course of any typical job, there may be disputes or disagreements. There may be some colleagues who are easier to work with than others. For example, one person can be challenging to work with while another shows appreciation. Rarely is any job perfect and everyone has a particular level of what can be tolerated, whether or not it is consciously recognized and acknowledged. On occasion a new job, one that felt good at the beginning, can seem to go bad and if it does – it may seem to be beyond your control. But you always have a choice as to how you respond, whether you take flight, fight, or do nothing. The outcome of your action depends upon whether it was done from an emotional or rational perspective.
Working with a wide variety of personalities, changing job requirements, demanding expectations, or stressful working conditions can challenge the established internalized threshold for what can be accepted. For many people it is a balancing act. As an example, the working conditions may be poor but the pay is good so the tradeoff is acceptable. Or the pay is low but the manager is especially engaging and enjoyable to work with most days. But that tolerance level may have to be adjusted, especially when an issue arises that pushes past it. That triggering event raises awareness of the internalized threshold level and now something must be done to address it.
Often a triggering event feels like the last straw, especially when a person has continued to put up with circumstances at work and a line was drawn – and someone or something has now crossed it. The threshold is now consciously recognized and must be dealt with internally (emotional response) or externally (some form of confrontation or retaliation). Dealing with triggering events externally first can make an uncomfortable situation better or more likely, worse. That’s why it should be a strategic response, which is tough to do when emotions are running high and it feels as if it is no longer possible to tolerate or put up with current conditions.
Fight or Flight Reactions
A triggering event may seem like it has come out of the blue; however, a job may have actually been going bad for quite some time and it isn’t until there is a culmination of events that a crisis point is reached, which is the time when it gets your attention. Then the situation or triggering event seems to demand some form of resolution from you. Personality clashes at work are usually the most difficult to resolve. A third party or the use of allies to intervene may be needed, and if you truly develop a dislike for someone a decision must be made as to whether or not you can work with them for the sake of the job, or even your future career.
The initial reaction for many people is to fight, by pushing back or speaking up. It could also manifest in the form of performance declining and/or withdrawing from others at work. One choice that never usually works well is retaliation, as it will only continue to maintain negative emotions. When a job seems to become unbearable it can be hard to get back to the initial feeling of excitement that was experienced when beginning this job. That is when a second option of finding new employment, quitting, or taking flight may seem like the best response. Both fight and flight are reactive, often emotional responses, and do not usually result in the best use of judgement. A better option is to wait and avoid reacting or making decisions until you can switch from being emotional to thinking in a more rational manner.
Do Nothing When a Good Job Goes Bad
When a job reaches a crisis point, or something has occurred that pushes past the internalized threshold or comfort level, there are usually strong emotions involved. It is natural to then ask questions, in an attempt to pinpoint a precise reason why the events occurred or why this happened to you. In other words, you may want to get to the bottom of it, figure it out, and perhaps blame someone. If this mental attitude continues for any length of time it can lead to self-doubt, anger, frustration, and other strong, negative emotions. But somehow you have to find a way to address those emotions before you fight or take flight, otherwise you may make a decision that you later wish you hadn’t or eventually come to regret.
It can be helpful to switch to a rational mode, which can take time and practice, and consider the bigger picture. What are your career plans and goals? What are the benefits of staying or leaving? Do you have still more to learn from this job? Are there new skills you can still acquire? Then as you think rationally you can become more productive with your response. For example, what can you do now to make the situation more tolerable? If this involved another employee, can you make the first step to repair the situation or relationship? Is there another team or department you can transfer to if the personality clash continues? Even a temporary change in the situation can help you reset how you feel about the job.
Everyone understands that no job is going to be perfect. There will be an ebb and flow of ups and down times, disputes and disagreements, and circumstances that may be less than desirable. When your personal threshold has been crossed the best course of action is to take a mental time out rather than fighting or taking flight. Engage yourself in reflection and emotional assessment. Seek out friends you trust and have your best interest at heart, who can help you work through these situations. More importantly, conduct a career self-assessment and consider the role of this job in your career plans. The best question you can ask yourself is this: would another job be that much better? When a good job goes bad you may have to leave but before you do, make sure you’ve made the change from a mindset of being proactive with your career rather than reactive and emotional. You are always in charge of your responses and your career.
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson is an innovative educator with experience in higher education as an online instructor and college professor, along with work as a corporate trainer and manager of a corporate training development.
Dr. J has developed expertise in his career with adult education, distance learning, online teaching, faculty development, and instructional design, along with organizational learning and development.