The Choice is Yours
Janet is Executive Assistant to the CEO of ABC Industries and has worked with Jack for the past 27 years. It is a small, family-owned company, and she has been quite content working there over the years.
ABC Industries was recently acquired by XYZ Industries and, as a result, Jack announced his quick retirement and removal from the Board of Directors. Janet was afraid for her job but was reassured that since she had so many years of seniority, she could continue to work there—for the new CEO, Marianne.
Marianne has been CEO for six weeks, and it has been the worst six weeks of Janet’s life. Marianne is demanding, unreasonable, and has a violent temper. Last week she slammed the door so hard in her office (Janet didn’t know why) the frame split. She doesn’t seem to respect Janet’s knowledge, role, or appear to like her.
Janet isn’t a quitter and is concerned she might not be able to find another job that pays as well as this one does. Each day she comes home exhausted, often burst into tears, and the situation is affecting her relationship with her husband.
[ctt template=”3″ link=”q8paQ” via=”yes” ]Take action when you feel out of control, overwhelmed, and scared.[/ctt]
Let’s walk through Janet’s scenario and offer her advice which fits her situation but would also work in any professional relationship that has you feeling out of control and overwhelmed.
We will start with emotions.
1) Janet feels out of control. Marianne is volatile, and Janet is allowing that volatility to affect her day. The first thing Janet needs to do is take back control. While it’s easier said than done, Janet needs to stop giving Marianne permission to ruin her day. No one in life is so powerful they can ruin your day unless you let them. Control also comes back when we decide we are going to do something, and Janet is going to do something about this situation (see below).
2) Janet feels overwhelmed. I’m guessing that part of the challenge with her husband is that she is coming home emotionally exhausted and doesn’t have anything left to give her husband except tears and frustration. Janet needs to put boundaries on her complaining when she gets home. Allow herself to vent for five minutes, but then say to herself that she isn’t going to talk about work anymore. Perhaps take a walk around the block with her husband where they don’t talk about work. She needs a way to vent, but it shouldn’t be to her husband alone. A trip to the gym, a therapist, a cat might be the venting she needs. The boundaries are to protect her current relationships as well as to help her control that feeling of being overwhelmed.
3) Fear is the biggest emotion she needs to deal with. Janet is afraid that if she leaves this job she will never find another one. While that sounds extreme, we can acknowledge that she is feeling trapped, is afraid that she isn’t as good as she thought she was, and is worried that other bosses may be like Marianne. We could easily tell her none of this is true, but when you are deep in a situation, worries become very real. Acknowledge the fear, and do things like journaling to help put them in perspective. Even if you don’t want another job, it is often a good idea just to see what is out there and determine if you have the qualifications or not. If not, get them (just in case), and if so, that helps alleviate a lot of the fear too.
We have to take action to deal with each of these emotions. We need to feel in control, we need to take away the dark cloud of overwhelm, and we need to move past the fear.
[ctt template=”3″ link=”5d2b9″ via=”yes” ]We need to move past fear and take action. Here is how to do it![/ctt]
Janet has three choices for action: she can accept the situation as it is, change the situation, or leave the situation. She cannot continue to live in fear, to be overwhelmed, and to feel trapped. Her body will rebel in either an emotional or physical breakdown over time.
Accept it: This means Janet needs to detach from the situation emotionally. Recognize that this is a job and the money is good. Emotional detachment will allow her to do her job without taking it personally. As you can imagine, that is not easy to do. If the situation is short-term, we are typically able to manage this response. If it is clear that Marianne is not going to work out (because it sounds like she is a tyrant with everyone), then Janet can focus on the temporary goal of keeping it all together until her boss is removed from her job. If it isn’t short-term, she will need to focus on other things such as providing great administrative support in difficult times. She needs to detach emotionally from her relationship with her boss.
Change it: This is the area that I coach most people to try first. Have real conversations with Marianne about what she is feeling. Be willing to step forward and say that things aren’t going well from your perspective—we need some rules, boundaries, and mutual respect. Janet will likely need to acquire some skills on difficult conversations, boundaries, and conflict management. While she is trying to make it work, she will feel more in control.
Leave it: Recognize that the longer you stay in the situation, the more harm it will cause, and that jumping ship is the best course of action.
What Janet can’t keep doing is what she is currently doing.
This is not an easy situation, but the only thing you can do is look at all the choices you have and make the best choice for you and your career.