I Feel Trapped At Work – But Is Leaving My Job Right Now A Crazy Idea?

'This feels like a terrible time to leave, but I can't bear the situation'

Searching for a new job in a pandemic

by Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacob |
Updated on

In a world of in­spi­ra­tional memes and #girlboss In­sta­gram posts, it’s easy to for­get that we all get stuck at work, or feel like we can’t find a way for­ward at times. Sue Uner­man is the Chief Trans­for­ma­tion Of­fi­cer at Me­di­a­Com and Kathryn Ja­cob OBE is the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive at Pearl and Dean. To­gether they wrote The Glass Wall: Suc­cess Strate­gies For Women At Work And Busi­nesses That Mean Busi­ness. Their new book Belonging, The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality At Work is out now. Each week an­swer your work ques­tions with prag­matic, hon­est ad­vice that’s proven to work…

Q: I’m feeling trapped at work. I would like to look for a new job but I feel like under current circumstances this is really difficult and that this is a terrible time to leave. What do you advise please as I can’t bear this situation?

KJ: Firstly, is it your job that is making you feel trapped or is it just the continuation of our current weird work experience in lockdown? Since the new year lots of people have said to me that this lockdown feels harder than the previous ones, and that it is getting them down. All of us are familiar with the cycle of working from home/living at work and the pressures and dislocation that this brings. So, think about whether it is the time to leave and why.

SU: Research indicates that people usually don’t leave because of the job, but because of their manager. This is another aspect of this situation that you should try and explore. Is it the job, is the company, is the sector or is it just your immediate boss? Because if that is the case, there are measures you could put in place to try and change teams, get promoted or even try a new role within the same organisation. One of the findings in our new book, Belonging, the key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion and equality at work, is that your enjoyment of the workplace can be in your hands. A sense of Belonging (and you clearly do not feel this at the moment) does transform the workplace. The good news is that you can help to make this transformation take place. Leadership in this respect lies in every seat. Sounds too good to be true? We would suggest trying one or two of the techniques in our book (they are tried and tested).

KJ: I imagine that if you are feeling trapped, maybe there are others that feel this too. Using techniques that develop empathy can be useful to not only help your colleague but also to give you a renewed sense of connection and purpose. So, here’s one technique to try, in one of your typical regular meetings, search for someone who you feel that you could bond with and reach out to them outside of the meeting Ask them how they are, how they are feeling, and build a connection and see what support you can give them. Nobody is totally happy at the moment and just by showing that you care you will be helping to lift the mood of the whole team. Small and regular changes and approaches like this gradually build a better atmosphere and are able to transform how we feel about work. Very often grand gestures and plans are just empty and don’t achieve very much.

SU: However, perhaps you are right, maybe it isn’t the job for you. What can you do about searching for something different. Depending on the sector, there are organisations that are hiring. What specific skills do you have to offer that could help you find a new job? Digital skills are always in demand, so if you can learn a new skill this quarter, this would put you in a great position both for promotion at your current organisation and for exploring a different company’s opportunities. Have a clear idea of what you offer, what your personal brand is in fact. Are you someone who gets stuff done efficiently, maybe you’re an ideas person, or maybe you are all about the detail. If you can be clear about your attributes this will help your career journey.

KJ: Once you have looked at your CV, done a summary of what you can bring to a company, then it is time to look at places like LinkedIn and investigate companies that you think you’d like to join, and do some research on them. Taking an active interest in where you would like to move next, rather than waiting for something to come up is a positive thing to do. Employers like people who are motivated enough to make the effort to understand them. Use your networks (discretely of course), ask people who you know if they are aware of any positions that are open, and whether they have heard good things about any businesses. Ask them to keep you in touch with any opportunities. They might be able to let you know about roles even before they are advertised.

SU: Do not enter this simply wanting to escape from what you are feeling, at the moment, is a trap. This won’t help. And is this why I would suggest trying to change how you feel about your current situation as well as looking outside the organisation. Unless you are working somewhere very small, your immediate boss won’t be the be all and end all of the culture of your business. Connect with your manager’s boss – only today I asked a colleague if they had ever had a one to one conversation with the group head of their team. They said that they had never done so, and had automatically assumed that this person would not have time for them. Well maybe they won’t have time immediately, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for a quick 20 minute, get to know you, chat. Especially if you can offer some ideas about how to improve ways of working or customer service, the culture, mood or efficiency.

KJ: From both of us, whatever you decide to do, best of luck and here’s hoping for a happier working life.

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