Gather wildly different personalities together; throw tight deadlines, difficult clients, and passive-aggressive emails into the mix; and blend. What you have is your average workplace, complete with its own unique culture and challenges.
And while some office snafus are truly one-offs, there are others that are universal and we’ve all encountered from time to time. Hopefully, they resolve after a day or two. But sometimes, issues snowball — and that’s when they cause morale and productivity to nosedive.
The good news is, most workplace problems are fixable — and in some cases preventable. So let’s take a look at some common workplace challenges and how to overcome them.
You’re not getting the praise you deserve
Once, a colleague of mine pulled an all-nighter to finish a job, only to have her boss dismiss her hard work with a wave of his hand. In a moment of sleep-deprived madness, she flung the contents of her coffee cup in his face and stormed out. Surprisingly, she kept her job.
Perhaps, your boss overlooks you, too. Maybe a colleague is taking the credit for all your ideas. Or maybe you feel overshadowed by a loud coworker who sweeps up all the praise.
While most instances of unacknowledged effort are one-offs, feeling like your hard work constantly goes unnoticed can be a soul-destroying experience. Luckily, all of these issues can be solved without throwing lukewarm coffee in your boss’ face.
How to fix it:
It’s easy to feel indignant when hard work goes ignored. But if you suddenly get defensive and start casting blame on others, it won’t reflect well on you. The best thing to do is get proactive and be your own cheerleader.
If you turn in work before a deadline or get good feedback from a client: speak up! You don’t have to make a big thing about it: just drop your boss a short ‘n’ breezy email or send them a DM on your team’s chat app, which keeps the tone casual.
Not only are you shining a spotlight on your own successes, you’re making your boss’ job easier by letting them know you’re doing your work, and you’re doing it well. Even if you don’t receive praise every time, you’ll still get to personally celebrate your triumphs and feel good about yourself.
You’re the victim of bad organization
Organizational hiccups can strike at any time, even if your business is generally well-run. Poor communication, staff absences, or a lack of direction all have the potential to cause chaos. And while some issues can’t be prevented, having a strong sense of purpose, the right tools for the job, and a solid contingency plan in place can all help keep things on track.
How to fix it:
First, make sure you have the tools you need to keep projects running smoothly. This means objectives are defined, resources are allocated, and tasks are monitored.
Spreadsheets are okay, but they’re cumbersome to use and version control is a pain in the butt — so ideally, invest in project management software. It helps managers and teams track projects visually, update the right people at the right time, and optimize progress real-time, which helps everyone work that little bit more collaboratively.
In addition to equipping your team out with the right tools, you should make sure every project has clearly defined deliverables. Oh, and you should acquaint yourself with contingency plans, which come in handy if things do go belly-up.
You’re bored at work
We all get bored from time-to-time, but if it becomes an every-day occurrence, then consider it a red flag. Have you reached the top of your game and find your work no longer challenging? Do you have enough to do, or are you left watching the clock for endless stretches of time? Or perhaps you’re a bad fit because you’re over- or underqualified, which is making you feel disconnected.
When any of these situations arise, a ‘what’s the point’ mentality takes over, at which point, we start to lose interest.
How to fix it:
Try to work out what’s causing your boredom. If it’s because you don’t have enough work, or you find the work you do have no longer challenges you, book a meeting with your boss and get a feel for the lay of the land. But don’t go in unprepared: think about where you’d like to go.
Is there room for growth within your role, or is there extra responsibility you want to take on? Keep the tone positive rather than frustrated, and focus on what you can do, rather than what you don’t want to do. Even if it turns out there’s no room for progression or growth, you’ll leave the conversation with a better grasp of your situation and the opportunities available to you.
You made a mistake
The stomach drop, the clammy hands, the sudden panic — that’s right, you’ve messed up. And as stressful and all-consuming as it may feel in the moment, it’s happened to everyone at some point. Small mistakes — like an accidental ‘reply all’ email can be brushed aside (with a red face) — but if it’s something big and company-damaging, then you need to give it a little more attention.
How to fix it:
First things first: you need to take responsibility, which shows your boss you’re committed to fixing the problem. Next, you need to apologize. But make it short, and combine it with a solution. So rather than just saying you feel terrible about it — which makes the problem about you — say “I know this is an issue. Here’s how I’m going to fix it.”
Then, once the problem has been smoothed out as much as possible, have a catch up meeting with your boss to explain why it happened, and what you’re going to do to make sure it won’t happen again. Save that long, heartfelt apology email until after the problem has been dealt with.
You feel burnt out
Burnout has officially been recognized by the WHO as an ‘occupational hazard’. It’s a little more than workplace stress; it’s a combination of exhaustion, prolonged negativity, and reduced efficiency. It’s one of those things that can creep up on you, so the sooner you recognize it, the better.
How to fix it:
First, get acquainted with the symptoms — and don’t ignore them. Next, ask your manager for a chat. Pick a time when they aren’t scheduled for a big meeting or likely to be interrupted: you want their full, unhurried attention. Tell them how you’re feeling and then — this is the important bit — explain how they can help you help you.
Perhaps your workload has grown and you need some extra help or you want to hand over certain tasks. Or maybe you’ve been feeling stressed lately, and you need to take a few days or even weeks off for mental health reasons. It may feel difficult to admit you’re struggling, but the other option — staying silent — only masks the problem.
Try to explain what’s behind the stress as much as possible, then propose a solution so both you and your manager feel empowered to fix it.
Some workplace issues can be solved almost instantly. Others require multiple small steps. If something’s taking a long time, don’t be discouraged. Instead, focus on your progress, look at where you’re going, and celebrate how far you’ve come: the most productive (not to mention challenging) thing to do is take that first step — which you’ve already done. So pat yourself on the back for that.
The trick is to channel your energy into things you can control, rather than wasting time stressing about the things you can’t. Once you’ve learned to do this, you’ll be able to prioritize your tasks and focus on what you can do to overcome these challenges, which is an empowering feeling.
Finally, once you’ve overcome your challenge, debrief. Dedicate some time to really understanding the situation, how it made you feel and how you dealt with it. While you may not be able to dodge workplace challenges in the future, you’ll be far better at overcoming them.