So Whatcha Whatcha Whatcha Want — at Work?

The secret to getting it is telling your boss.

Have you been less than happy at work lately? Maybe you’re even thinking about quitting. Chances are, you’re in one of two situations: 1) you just can’t take it anymore and need to leave ASAP or else you might implode, or 2) you’re feeling bored, unappreciated or otherwise frustrated and don’t know what other options you have aside from taking your talents elsewhere.

I wanted to share a recent (but long-time-coming) thought with you: your boss doesn’t want you to leave. (Well, assuming he is a halfway-decent person and doesn’t prioritize TPS reports over employees.) As a business owner and manager, I have firsthand knowledge of how much time and effort goes into finding the right person for a role. Companies don’t hire just anyone. You likely have a critical set of skills and a personality that fits well with your team or else you wouldn’t be there in the first place. And unless you took your position out of complete desperation (hey, it happens), you were once excited about both your job and your company. You looked forward to going into work every day.

So what went wrong? What got you to the point where you’re now thinking about leaving? I’m not asking you to meditate on this for hours, but before you make any big decisions, I do think it’s worth taking a few minutes to consider why you’re at this crossroads. I too was a staffer once, and remember what it was like to be uncertain about whether the time had come to find something new.

The first thing to ask yourself is whether or not you’ve been proactive about sharing your career goals with your boss. I’m not talking about the annual goals you set during your yearly review — I’m talking about long-term, years-from-now goals. When’s the last time you’ve had a discussion about those? It really is your responsibility to make sure your manager understands where you ultimately want to end up, We bosses aren’t mind readers — we can only help you progress in your career if you’ve clued us in on your vision.

Same goes for things you’d like to achieve in the more immediate future. You might cover near-term goals in your annual review, but if that’s the only time you’re discussing your career path with your boss, that’s a big problem. Yes, a perfect manager would keep your aspirations top-of-mind throughout the year and actively find you new challenges, but you and I both know that’s not realistic. You have to take charge of driving your career forward with the assistance of your boss. Now, if your manager always drops the ball when you need help with a certain opportunity, that’s no good. But if you never even let him know exactly how he could help you, you need to give him that chance now.

That’s right, I’m saying it’s time to be completely honest with your manager. Tell your boss you’re feeling like you’re in a rut. Let him know what you really want to be doing — now, a few years from now, and ten years from now. If I found out that one of my team members was unhappy, I would want to do everything I could to help that individual feel fulfilled again. I wouldn’t want them to leave. That’s why I’m certain that after you have this conversation with your boss, you should immediately be able to tell from his reaction whether or not he’s at least going to try to do what he can to keep you.

Then you have to give your manager a little time to see if he can come up with a plan to get you to where you’d like to be. In my experience, the larger the company, the more time this might take, so be patient.

When your boss returns with some options, be open to roles and paths you might not have considered before. I know that once I fully understand an employee’s long-term career vision, I sometimes have ideas for different paths to get there that may seem unusual at first blush. There’s more than one way to move a career forward, remember!

That being said, I realize not every situation is salvageable. If you’re met with a cool reception from your boss and still have a pit in your stomach after having a career discussion, then by all means, start interviewing or seriously considering another offer. We’ve all had bosses who were straight-up jerks, and we’ve all worked for companies that simply don’t value their employees like they should. Sometimes there’s not much you can do in that kind of situation. Their loss, right?

There’s one more scenario that even the best boss might not be able to fix for you. It may be that you’re at a firm that hasn’t changed with the times and you’re eager to do a different kind of work. Maybe what your company focuses on isn’t exciting to you anymore, and continuing to “move up” there would give you nothing more than a means to pay the bills. If opportunities to keep learning and growing no longer exist where you are, it’s certainly OK to move on.

If you do end up leaving, you can still take the high road, regardless of how your firm may have treated you. Almost all industries are close-knit; information, rumors and reputations travel fast. To me, being professional means giving at least three weeks’ notice and doing what you can to transition your work. Then you can leave on good terms and look forward to starting fresh and feeling reinspired in your new position.

This next part’s critical: when you finally begin your next role, don’t set yourself up for the same frustrations to fester over the years. Build a trusting relationship with your manager from day one. I always appreciate it (and am impressed) when my employees check in with me throughout the year instead of waiting until it’s annual review time to update me on how things are going. You certainly don’t want to wait until your exit interview to provide feedback that could’ve helped the company or improved your job satisfaction while you were still there. Speak up, speak up — always! Any boss worth a damn should be happy to hear your thoughts.

Joining a new company is a huge decision, and it might end up being the right move for you. But before you go, try to work with your boss to see if there’s something he could do to help bring back that old spark you once felt for your job. If he’s anything like me, he’ll go all-out in working with you until you’re happy again. It’ll be a win-win for both you and your firm, and the open relationship you’ve built and the professional way you’ve handled the situation will serve to reiterate why you’re such a valuable employee in the first place!

Photo caption: Monster Buddies by, Ella Greene.

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