I emotionally inhaled a sigh of relief the afternoon I was told by my newest manager that my position was being eliminated. I didn’t protest. I didn’t cause a scene as I’d imagined I would if this day ever came. I didn’t ask for an alternative solution.
Contracts and severance agreements are traditional ways of ending an employee’s tenure, amicably. This was no different for me. Clearly, this wasn’t a rash decision on their part. I sat and listened as I was enlightened on how this was actually a blessing for me. With a thin smile my manager expressed how I now had time to take a well-deserved break after all my years of hard work. The benevolence of it all. I imagined she was breathing a sigh of relief internally as well.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross shares in her book On Death and Dying, that those experiencing a loss go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We can apply these emotions to the “Career Grief” we feel over losing a job. Ross explains the emotions are not always experienced linearly, and some people might not experience them at all.
I skipped the denial and bargaining phase and went straight to acceptance and anger. I had no illusions that I was the perfect employee. Still, I felt my manager’s disinterest in me and disrespect for my skills and experience contributed to my disinterest in a job I once loved. I was more than ready to go, and I was angry that I felt this way.
Months later, at the end of my “well-deserved break,” I began my search for a new gig. My excitement and enthusiasm soon dissipated as every rejection and unanswered job inquiry seemed to pierce my soul. I had reached the depression stage of my career grief. My self-esteem was completely eroded. I questioned everything about myself. “Why would anyone deign to hire me?” “Was I ever really good at my job?” “Was my resume all smoke and mirrors?” I’m innately an optimist. These feelings of self-doubt, vulnerability, and fear were unexpected and scary.
Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard defines a toxic environment as, “one where people at the bottom are experiencing corrosive pressures, and these corrosive pressures are draining them and making them want to leave.”
At work, my manager would often isolate me from projects I was well equipped to lead. I’d only learn of these projects after teammates would seek my counsel and input. And with every new department hire I’d become more marginalized. There was never an explanation. We did not receive performance reviews. There was no system in place to allow for feedback. I was angry with myself for not confronting my manager about this but I believed there’d be no satisfactory resolution and I could be punished further as a consequence.
Now that I was looking for a new gig, I came to realize what a head job my former managers had done on me, spiritually and psychologically. I’d experienced microaggressions and biases without awareness of the trauma they caused to my mental well being. My manager’s perceived lack of trust in my abilities had caused me to doubt myself. I recognized these thoughts as illogical and untrue but I still allowed them to prevail.
A company can have a profound mission statement and provide stellar benefits, but a lousy manager can really destroy you. One department team may be flourishing while another is crying in their coffee mugs because of a clueless manager. Here are a few ways a manager can help their team thrive:
Trust your team’s abilities
Allow them the opportunity to make decisions, and don’t second guess them. You hired them for their skills. Know when to allow them autonomy and be there to provide guidance and support when needed. Place your team in roles that play to their strengths and interests. Set them up to excel. Also, treat them like a real person, not just a spoke in a wheel. You don’t need to be BFFs, but a genuine interest in your team’s well being goes a long way. Give them the chance to shine.
Employees value recognition
Professional recognition benefits the employee as much as it does the organization. A Gallup study concluded that employees who receive regular praise are more productive, engaged, and more likely to stay with their organization than those who do not. If my manager had set up actional KPI targets and acknowledged when they were achieved, this would have been a boon to my esteem and attitude towards my work.
It’s one thing to assign projects by skill sets. It is another to do it based on the team member you like more. No one wants to feel like an ignored stepchild. Be transparent with the team on how tasks are assigned and areas of improvement needed to secure specific responsibilities. Constructive criticism and mentoring are welcomed and appreciated.
Foster talent instead of discarding them
Encourage opportunities to learn and grow. Don’t risk losing talent because they’re bored or have outgrown their position. Offer options to acquire a new skill set instead. I was essentially told there was no more use for me and shown the door. Now, what if they’d offered me a chance to pivot to another role, department, or enhance a skill I was missing? I may or may not have wanted to go that route, but I would have felt they still recognize my professional worth.
Leaving a toxic work environment doesn’t end the problem. There’s still work to do. Here are some steps I’m taking to get my groove back:
Work with a career counselor
A good coach can be invaluable to your future success. They can help you gain a new perspective, shine a light on mental obstacles and uncover skills and interests you weren’t aware you had. They’ll help put you on a career path that works for you. Psychology Today is an excellent resource for finding a career counselor or career psychologist in your area.
Surround yourself with love and light
A great support group does wonders for the soul. A good friend can be a great sounding board and cheerleader. Weed out the toxicity in your relationships. You do a fine job of beating up on yourself. You don’t need “friends” doing that for you.
Own a compliment
The inability to accept a compliment is a mild form of Imposter Syndrome. We find it difficult to acknowledge our accomplishments and worry about appearing immodest. The next time someone compliments you thank them. Recognize self-deprecation as a defense mechanism. Accepting your intelligence, knowledge, and talent doesn’t make you a bad person. Don’t let your inner saboteur triumph. As Rupaul says, “You’re a Winner Baby!” Own it!
Mantras and meditation
Mantras and affirmations are a powerful way of alleviating stress. My mantra, courtesy of The Lady Chablis, is “Two Tears in a bucket, Mutha F— It”. For me, this particular mantra or affirmation is a reminder not to dwell on things. Accept, allow a brief lament and then move on. It’s easier said than done but the more you say it the more you believe it. Use whatever works for you! Click here for more information on the power of mantras: Mantras for Anxiety/ Harness the Healing Power of Chanting to Ease Fear, Stress, and Depression
Network, network, network!
Sending out resumes with hundreds of applicants for one job can depress the most confident person. Put yourself out there and reach out to your network. It’s hard to admit you need help, but as I say, Two Tears In Bucket. You increase your chance of getting a job you love by reaching out to people who know and believe in you.
I’m putting in the work and seeing progress but rebuilding self-esteem is like a rollercoaster. There are highs and lows. You scream a lot, but it’s a thrilling ride, and you end up wanting to keep riding. Good luck with your journey. I leave you with this quote from Oprah Winfrey:
“It is confidence in our bodies, minds, and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in, and new lessons to learn — which is what life is all about.”
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