We think we’re in control, that things are going our way. Life is good. Right up until the moment it isn’t.
What we do next is critical.
Countless situations can throw a career into chaos:
- Your wonderful supervisor is replaced by someone who doesn’t appreciate your efforts.
- You become chronically ill.
- You must care for a family member.
- Your company lays off a significant number of people, and you find yourself doing the work of three.
- Your supervisor bullies you.
- A coworker complains about you.
- You become depressed after the death of your spouse.
- You stay home for seven years to raise your young children.
- You are fired.
The causes of career chaos are as varied as the careers themselves. Actually, what happens to derail your career is less important than what you do about it.
Many times, a decision must be made as to whether you will keep the job, find another job, or not work at all for a period of time. Too often, we put off this decision until necessity forces it upon us. In the case of physical and mental illness, we often wait until we cannot work to quit work, leaving our employer and coworkers to pick up the pieces. Likewise, in cases of bullying, chronic overwork, and personality conflict, we wait until the situation is unbearable, until we must make a difficult decision quickly to survive.
In all of these cases, it is preferable to plan dispassionately to leave a job before circumstances are desperate, but I don’t know if I’ve heard of anyone pulling it off. Instead, a manager with a life-threatening diagnosis continued to work despite losing consciousness multiple times at his desk. An employee with a chronic illness became suicidal and quit her job suddenly rather than letting down her employer by quitting earlier. Another chose to keep working at a low level of productivity, forcing coworkers to cover for him, rather than apply for disability for a chronic condition.
Employers are often of little assistance in these situations. Do not mistake your Human Resources Officer for your friend or advocate. Their job is to protect the interests of the company, not the employee. Beyond reminding you of rules and Employee Assistance Programs, they have little to offer you. In the case of a disagreement with another employee, they can sometimes offer arbitration if at a level your supervisor is unable to hear. They may be compassionate people, but they are not usually on the employee’s side of a disagreement.
Whether you decide to stay with this job, get another one, or take a break from work, your focus needs to be on you, rather than the job. That’s a hard pill for many of us to swallow. We spend half our lives concentrating on what we do for a living, and suddenly, we are supposed to put that life’s work on the back burner? Even temporarily, that’s a tall order.
The consequence is that we delay healing, which needs to be our first concern. One of the reasons it is so hard to face is that we don’t recognize it. We don’t know what not working or working less looks like. Imposing structure on that time is paramount so we maintain a sense of control of our life. That means planning. Before you make a major change in your life, anticipate what it means.
- Will you be immobile or with limited mobility during a period of recovery?
- How will you spend that time?
- Can you perform some work duties from home or hospital? Is it in your best interest to do so?
- Do you need certain types of therapy to promote your healing?
- Who will be supporting you emotionally during this time?
- Have you made financial plans for this time?
If you are contemplating a difficult situation at work, consider talking through it with a professional outside your workplace. Your doctor, therapist, or a life coach may offer a perspective on healing that helps you make decisions.
If you are feeling extremely depressed or have thoughts of suicide, please make an appointment with a mental health professional today. Even if you don’t feel a sense of urgency about it, this is a critical situation that can escalate without discernible warning.