When a Few Small Pieces Make Your Job Miserable

I had a pair of long conversations with a friend of mine over the last week. He’s employed with an engineering firm and he’s largely happy with what he does. However, there are four specific things about his job that make him deeply unhappy. These items each seem somewhat nitpicky, but they have him upset enough that he is considering leaving his job because of the stress that they bring him.

For one, he is deeply aerophobic, to the point that he takes a big handful of sedatives before flights and relies on a traveling buddy to help him make any flight switches that he needs to make. He’s usually stressed for a week before flying and, even with sedatives, he has thrown up as a flight is taking off. Since he flies about four times a year for his job, aerophobia adds significant stress to his job on a regular basis.

For another, he’s often doing tasks way outside his job that fill him with a lot of stress. He serves as a system administrator on a handful of servers, and if there are ever problems with the servers, the bosses come to him in a panic and start demanding that he get them back up. He was hired to fill a job very, very far away from the idea of system administration, but when the old system administrator basically packed up and walked out, he filled in for a brief period in his spare time because he had some limited experience with that type of work in college. The firm never bothered to find a new sysadmin. He deeply dislikes doing that kind of work and it adds stress to his work.

This left him with a question: what do you do if you mostly like your work, but a few small pieces really aggravate and stress you out? This is a situation that I think a lot of us find ourselves in – and it’s one that can be avoided. Here’s what I did to avoid some similar stressors in my career:

First of all, establish a pattern of doing good work. People are much more likely to listen to the requests of a good worker than a bad one. You should always document your work, but it’s especially useful when building up to issues like these.

Second, figure out whether the stressors are bad enough to make you quit before you talk to your boss about it. If they’re bad enough, spend some time figuring out what you will do if nothing changes. This may include polishing your resume and so on.

Third, carefully list what the specific problems are. In other words, prepare for the meeting – don’t go in there and start getting hysterical. Be prepared to clearly identify the things that are bothering you and be ready for solutions to those problems. Also, be prepared to make clear how these issues are impeding your work in other ways – undue stress, task interference, and so on.

Once you’ve done these, schedule a meeting with your supervisor. Lay out the issues you’re having, explain how they affect your performance and keep you from excelling, and suggest solutions for each one. Make it clear that you’ve thought about this.

If you are a solid employee, your supervisor will work with you on this to some degree. Give things some time to change, but keep in mind what you’ve decided to do if nothing changes.

I’ve previously been through a situation much like this one. Several of us were stressed out by an extremely belligerent and uncooperative person in the workplace, and even though a number of us complained about it, nothing changed for several months. Finally, about ten of us had a “resume lunch,” where we all took a very long lunch, polished our resumes together, and did some job hunting. The word got back to the supervisor and within a week, the troublesome employee was moved elsewhere within the organization.

Most of the time, things don’t have to go that far. If you’re a good employee, the supervisor will listen to you and wants to keep you within reason. Remember that, take action, and things might improve more than you even think.

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