08 August 2008

Reaching Boiling Point

By Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

At times, our professional life is fraught with difficulties, more often than not we bear and keep at it.  But sometimes, we do reach a breaking point.  At these times, we need someone to turn to and that's why we created Professionelle.  You will see from this e-mail below how one member reached breaking point and asked us for our advice:

I have been running a Company alongside an exceptionally demanding boss, waiting for the 'big pay rise' or some enticing offer/package to keep me on. I've been here for 3 years and worked my way up. The main issue is lack of general office support and thus I work my behind off every day, I go to great lengths to try and see fruition of my hard work and nothing ever comes of it. I feel like I have been running out of patience lately. My boss expects me to be a miracle worker and I'm already at my limit working 50-60 hour weeks. If I have a bad day in the office I can't wait to get home to browse Seek, then other days will be ok and I'll feel guilty for 'shopping' around to see what other jobs are out there. My partner says "If I'm not happy then just leave" yet other days he'll talk to me about ways I can get around some issues and reminds me of our large mortgage - His answer probably revolves around what mood I'm in! My question is: What's boiling point …..what makes other Professionelle members decide to look for another job?

Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes offers the following advice:

Thank you for your e-mail - you raise some great issues. As well as the boiling point one it seems to me it might be useful to consider:

  • What do I need from my next role (at this employer or another) to ensure I keep developing and progressing towards my goals?
  • What can I do to be sure I've given this my best shot and that it's time to look elsewhere?

Boiling points

Yep, we've all got them and you can be sure they differ. What would drive me insane would be a minor grizzle to you. What's more, boiling points will vary for the same person, depending on what else is going on in her life. Falling in or out of love, a new house, illness… The explosion, when and if it comes, could well have more to do with events outside the office walls than the irritations within it!

My advice is: you don't want to make a decision at boiling point because it will be reactive and negative, not proactive and positive. By all means go with your gut instinct in the end, but only after you've given your gut some facts first. I'm reading a book on women entrepreneurs and it quotes this from the Center for Women's Business Research (2006):

The highest ranked factor influencing women entrepreneurs when making business decisions is being sure they have all the relevant information and data available. Second in importance is whether or not the decision is consistent with a strong gut feeling.

As the book's author, Heffernan, says, this means that women use the full capacity of their brain to understand what to do. They do not expect only one form of thinking to be adequate!

It sounds like your gut has been sending you some strong signals, but it's worth taking mental stock before you act.

Take Stock

Here's a quick diagnostic for you to begin thinking about the positives of your current position:

  1. Do your values align with those of your company, or the part of it you work in?
    Some of those 'bad days' may have been caused by behaviours that felt wrong to you. Getting clear what your values are will be very valuable if you do decide to look elsewhere.
  2. Does your current role use your strengths?
    Strengths aren't your skills, which I'm sure your role does use. Strengths are positive personal characteristics, like creativity and perseverance that you bring to situations. Using these characteristics builds your happiness. If people around you also express appreciation for these strengths, that's even more satisfying.
  3. Can you see continued opportunities to learn and grow and do they support your goals?
    I know you're in your early or mid-twenties, with a degree behind you. This is not a time to stagnate in your learning! Think about what new experiences would broaden you and increase your value to an employer (and to yourself). Recruiting sites often provide free tools and exercises to prompt your thinking, such as writing a career plan. Realise that most recruitment agencies will meet with you and talk you through the opportunities that exist in your market even if you're not applying to them for a particular role. If you're still not sure what you need to progress, try to find a mentor to talk to.
  4. Is a career progression path clear to you, and available?
    You say you've worked your way up, so the answer to this may be a clear 'yes'. However, you may be in a small firm (since you're co-running it after only three years) and the pyramid above you may now look very flat. If so, is your company growing rapidly, with new business units or offices likely to come onstream? If not, a sideways move to a larger operation with multiple advancement paths could be what you need.

Best Shot

Part of giving something your best shot is not just working incredibly hard at it. As a broad generalisation, we women do have a tendency to think that our hard work and effort will be eventually be noticed and rewarded. Often, that's not the case. We have to be prepared to market ourselves and we have to be prepared to say what we're looking for.

In your case, I'm wondering how much you've talked to your boss about the issues you have. Have you told him what kind of reward you feel your work and your growing experience now merit? (I'm assuming, by the way, that you know what the "enticing offer/package" would look like!) Is your boss sailing on unaware of the impact of inadequate office support on your morale?

If you haven't talked to him, you need to, even if the idea makes you uncomfortable. We have advice on such courageous conversations. It isn't about being aggressive and inflexible. It IS about knowing your position, thinking ahead to what responses he might make and being prepared for them. The issues you have sound wider than simply pay, but you may also find our advice on how to handle pay rise requests helpful too . We recommend starting with market-based facts there, too!

Test the Market (before you jump)

There are different ways to do this.

A low key and low risk route is to sign up with Quiet Agent. It's an online service to keep you in touch with the job market when you're not necessarily actively looking. If a prospective employer likes the sound of your anonymous CV, QuietAgent forwards you details of the job. If you're interested, you accept and take it further. If you're "just looking", you simply take note of what the market sees you to be eligible for.

As Galia laid out in "Should I Stay or Should I Go?", there is the more traditional route of visiting recruiting firms to talk about options, and preparing a CV and applying for jobs. There are somewhat greater risks with being 'found out' before you're ready, but this option also has benefits:

Going through the exercise of searching for a new role can help you focus and perhaps re-direct your career, regardless of the outcome. It's hard to take the time to think strategically about your career - this will force you to do it."

A third option, which you can read more about in "How to Keep Up With Job Opportunities", is to tap into your networks and contacts. Opportunities can come from the most unexpected places!

Back to Your Gut

OK. You've thought about what you want to achieve. You've reflected on your values and strengths and the fit with your firm. You've got a feel for what's out there in the market and how your skills and experience are viewed. You've spoken to your boss about what you need to progress and feel valued, and he's given you some sort of an answer.

You've thought about it all. Now stop thinking and see what it feels like.

Let me finish with a little story. Over the summer break of 2006-7, Galia and I had to find a name for this online community for professional working women. We generated loads of names and asked friends and family for more. I made up a score card of criteria and points, and I applied it rigorously. Three names came to the top. I wrote out the results and sent them to Galia.

Thing was, I liked the one that came in at #7. Thing was, so did Galia.

And that's why this site is called Professionelle, not Womenatwork, or Womenzwork or Assisther or any of the other names…

All the best with your big decision.

© Professionelle Ltd 2008


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