Is your job having a negative impact on your mental health?

Tell me if this sounds like you:

  • you promise yourself to be productive from next week, but Monday comes and you procrastinate
  • you constantly think about quiting even though you used to love your job
  • you get Sunday scaries – the feelings of anxiety or dread that many of us experience the day before heading back to work after the weekend.
  • You move meetings as you don’t feel ‘ready’ for them or just can’t stand the idea of talking to people
Advertisements

If you said yes to at least one of the above, it may mean that your mental health is suffering. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, or burnout – it is worth addressing the root cause of the situation, as left alone it may only get worse.

Personal disclaimer

This article is going to be very personal. As an employee who has experienced issues with mental and physical health during the pandemic and as a person who wants to improve workspace communication, I feel that it is important that I speak up about mental health at work and share advice to support those who struggle. If you have any advice you would like to share, please leave it in the comments so we could all learn.

I am not a mental health professional and if you are experiencing any issues, please follow up with your GP or mental health professional. You can also contact Samaritans, which is a free service.

Advertisements

Should you leave your job?

A lot of career advice I see is that if you are unsatisfied with your role or your workplace, you should leave your post. People talk about ‘toxic’ workplaces and micromanaging bosses.

I have scanned my experiences and realized that my main motives for leaving my jobs were either insufficient salary or I have exhausted opportunities for growth. But I am sure that a few of the places I worked in some people would consider ‘toxic’. I was bullied, I was micromanaged, I was told ‘but this is how it always been done’, or ‘this is a boy’s conversation’.

Yet, I showed up every day to work, hyped up and ready to smash my goals. So how was I different from others who have been through the same?

Advertisements

I believe that the difference was my communication skills. Growing them has helped me stand up for myself, create an environment where both my micromanaging boss and I were satisfied and create a women-at-work ally out of the boss who used words like ‘boy’s conversation’.

So if you are struggling in your role right now, and you decide to quit, that’s great. You’re probably going to feel better (at least in the short term), get a higher salary, and have a more responsible job. But if your struggles come from how you deal with work and how you communicate, it may be more beneficial to allow yourself to stop and try to learn. I guarantee that you’re going to prosper in any environment you might encounter in the future.

Advertisements

What are the elements of a ‘healthy’ job?

Over the years I have discovered that there are elements of my role that help me feel fulfilled at work. Even with the worst manager, I would enjoy my work and not feel overwhelmed by it if:

I clearly understand the three levels of my role: what are the must-do-basics; what will mean ‘doing a good job’ and what would mean that I am smashing it.
Advertisements

It’s easy to explain with an example: in my previous role, I would have a number of admin tasks that would have to be completed weekly. I was managing a fleet of cars and all the admin tasks around assigning cars, interacting with the lease company about drivers, checking licenses, and training new staff had to be completed. If that wouldn’t be done, not only I would be doing a bad job, but I would also be affecting other people’s experiences at work. As a procurement manager, I was also keeping an eye on contract negotiations and ensuring that all contracts were up to date.

As a next level, doing a good job, was when I delivered an exceptional service or saved money through my negotiations. That was not a make or break in the role, but it was an indication of doing it well. I also felt that I am doing a ‘good job’ when I networked with other people within the company and I learned about how their role was connected to mine.

On several occasions, I have come up with an idea of a project that would revolutionize the way our company was operating and successfully pitch that to the business. Doing this and delivering on said projects was my indication of doing something exceptional. My achievements were mentioned during company townhalls and I was congratulated on several occasions by senior leaders.

Advertisements

On the contrary, I have been in the role which, on paper, was even more amazing. Instead of managing procurement for a single country, I got to manage multiple territories and interact with top leadership on a daily basis. The role required similar skills as the previous one, so I jumped into it with no hesitation.

I have still received great feedback and was praised for my achievements. But soon I started questioning my ability to deliver the objectives and got hit with a hard imposter syndrome. Why? Because I didn’t have an understanding of what is even the basic level of my role. And when will I know that I moved from basic to a good job?

Having an achievable action plan and seing it’s progress during the year
Advertisements

Achievable is the key here. Last year I have made a great plan for my role. I looked at what other managers are delivering, which was anywhere between 12 and 20-odd projects, and decided to settle on the minimum number, as they have had more years of experience of implementing procurement in their territories.

The end of the year came, and I have completed maybe three with no real savings (which in procurement usually would be a red flag for me). I felt horrible, I honestly considered quitting as it made me feel that I am not good enough for my role. I stressed *a lot* before my annual review. And guess what? I received *a lot* of praise from my boss and the only direction I have heard was to focus more on analysis next year. I clearly didn’t understand what is required.

Advertisements
Being able to communicate clearly and openly with my boss

This is something I strongly appreciate. If I can come to my boss and share with him not only my success but also any roadblocks or failures and they support me through them and help me resolve them – I feel like there is growth in my role and even though I couldn’t do something yesterday, I can do it tomorrow. So I am definitely progressing in the role. This gives me a sense of achievement and being proud of what I bring to the table.

Advertisements

Can you change the impact of your job on your mental health?

I strongly believe you can change the impact your job has on your mental health without quitting.

Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do I clearly understand the three levels of my role: what are the must-do-basics; what will mean ‘doing a good job’ and what would mean that I am smashing it?
  • Do I have an achievable action plan and am I seeing it’s progress during the year?
  • Am I being able to communicate clearly and openly with my boss?

If you answered any of these questions ‘no’ – this is a great moment to start working on improving these areas. Learning how to talk at work will help you improve your communication with your boss. That has a direct impact on how you set your goals and objectives for the year, as clear communication will help you understand what is achievable. And last but not least, clear communication can help you and your boss evaluate your role requirements and agree on minimum / good job / exceptional performance standards.

Let me know in the comments if this resonated with you.

Advertisements

Why stakeholders don’t want to engage with you? And how to change their attitude

When you are trying to build an engaged relationship with stakeholders it can be a difficult challenge, especially if you are new in a large business or if you haven’t operated on the leadership level before.

If you are working in a corporation, you will soon realize that without the buy-in from multiple stakeholders, you are unable to deliver any project that you set up yourself to achieve. Fortunately, engaging stakeholders is part of the art of communication and as with every skill – it can be learned!

Advertisements

Why engaging stakeholders is important?

Stakeholders hold the power to make or break your projects and achieve your goals. It is especially apparent in large corporations, where the decisions are made by multiple stakeholders, who quite often work in separate departments.

Understanding your stakeholder’s priorities and challenges can help you introduce them to your idea, and hit the pain points they are experiencing. With stakeholders who share your desire to drive the project that you are leading, it is way easier to accomplish your goals.

Why stakeholders do not engage?

Do you know the situation when you have emailed someone at work multiple times and they haven’t replied? Or when you have repeatedly asked for a simple piece of information, but they seem not to be keen on sharing this? In the past, I would have thought that they were doing it on purpose, to show their power or that they don’t like me and wanted to make my life harder.

This may be true in some instances, but people generally don’t have time or energy to be difficult on purpose.

I have gathered below the most common reasons why stakeholders do not engage:

  • lack of trust – it is possible, that you haven’t build your relationship with them yet and they might feel unsure of your intentions. Sharing a small, yet critical piece of information might give you more power than they would like in this moment of your collaboration.

How to overcome that?

You should spend more time trying to understand your stakeholder’s needs and share small, but impactful suggestions that can help them in their role.

  • lack of time – from what I have experienced in my 10 years of professional work, I have very rarely seen people who have spare time on the job. Usually our to do lists and project lists are never ending and we need to prioritise to make sure we get the important things done
  • prioritising other tasks – these two reasons go hand in hand. If your stakehodler doesn’t understand the importance of your project and the impact it can have on their work, they are unlikely to prioritise it and share the infomration you need in a timely manner.

How to overcome that?

Advertisements

Make sure you are highlighting the benefits of the project to the stakeholder. To be able to do that effectively, you need to make sure you have done your pre-work – understanding their priorities and challenges, to be able to address them appropriately.

  • not understanding your role in the business – if your stakeholder doesn’t understand your place in the business, they may not understand if you are allowed to know certain things about their department. There might be some information which are on ‘need ot know basis’ and they might be just unsure if you do need to know.

How to overcome that?

The solution is twofold. You can build their understanding of your role by sharing the projects you have delivered for others, but also by having your boss/mentor/sponsor support you and promote your role and abilities to the stakeholder.

If you are struggling to take stakeholders on board, a brief email from your boss or a mention during the meeting can raise your status. Do not hesitate to ask your boss to talk you up. It’s their job to make sure you succeed in your role.

  • not understanding what you are trying to achieve – very often in business presentations we want to sound smarter so we use big words and complicated graphs. Yet this is not helpful for the others who are trying to understand the concept. The leaders who need to make the big decisions in business want to have a good understanding how projects will affect their operation.

How to overcome that?

Make sure you oversimplify your presentations. I like to do what I call ‘Mum’s test’ (my Mum is a very smart woman, but she knows very little about my job) – would my Mum understand this project if I described it to her? This helps me to keep my presentations simple and easy to understand, gaining a quick buying from the stakeholder, who doesn’t need to mull over the concepts I am introducing.

The story of Steve

I have used this example recently with one of my colleagues and I have soon realized how great it illustrates our relationships at work.

Imagine you are sitting in your house, doing your chores and you hear a doorbell. It’s your new neighbor, let’s call him Steve. Steve introduced himself as an extraordinary house designer and he is happy to offer his services to you for free. All you need to do is to give him your time and money, and he will decorate your house for you and he will do a great job!

I am sure you already think that Steve is a whack job and you are considering moving to a different postcode… Yet, this is exactly what we do at work!

‘Hi Anna,

My name is Steve, I just joined the purchasing department.

I have previously worked for some amazing companies like X, Y and Z and I am thrilled to be a part of the team in our ABC company.

I would love to schedule a 121 with you and share the purchasing process that we can implement to your next contract.

Regards,

Steve

Have you ever received an email like this? Or maybe you are guilty of sending one by yourself?

Imagine now a different scenario.

Your friend, Carol, comes to your house with her friend Steve. She says that Steve is an amazing designer. You trust Carol, so you welcome Steve warmer than the first time, but then he offers to decorate your house again…

Imagine the third scenario – you met Steve and from the beginning, he is interested in you, in your opinions, challenges, likes, and dislikes. He mentions that he is a designer and suggests you some great options, that could improve the challenges you’ve been having with your house. You try these and are very impressed with Steve’s experience and next time he suggests a bigger change, you are more open to listening to him.

When we are pitching projects at work we are very often coming from the place of making things done without considering how this looks like from the other person’s perspective. In the end, we got hired to do a specific job. However, very often, before this job gets done, we are required to build the relationships that will carry the projects forward.

Advertisements

Are you still struggling with engaging your stakeholders?

I hope this article has been useful to you and that you have learned some ideas on how to progress your relationships at work. If you are still struggling, or just would like to know more, let me know in the comments what would you like me to expand on.

In the meantime make sure you download my Stakeholder Questionnaire to get you started understanding your stakeholder’s needs.

Good luck!

Advertisements

How to ask your boss to work from home after the pandemic?

Can you ask your boss to work from home?

Advertisements

Have you been enjoying working from home for the last year and a half but your company started talking about going back to the office? Or maybe you’re already back and dreading the daily commute?

Asking your boss to continue working from home can be a scary idea (I’ve been there!), but if you don’t ask – you won’t get it! You can always ask the question – there are really no bad sides to it – and even if you receive a negative answer, you won’t keep thinking ‘What if?’.

Plan it

This is the most crucial thing to do before asking your boss to work from home after the official return to the office. Ask yourself the below questions before you get into the process:

  • Is my boss generally ok with working from home? – some people sill have the outdated idea that if you are working from home, you are not working at all. Try to find out discreetly what your boss’ opinion is and if they are generally open to let people have more freedom.
  • Is my boss the decision maker? – in many cases, especially in big corporations, your boss or even your boss’ boss might not be able to make this decision. It may be down to HR, country manager or someone else setting up the rules and deciding the faith of employees.
  • What are the benefits? – list the benefits for yourself, your boss and the business. Exhaust the list as much as you can. You don’t have to use all the points when you actually request the change to your working arrangement, but it’s good to be prepared for any pushback.
  • What could be the objections? – prepare a list of objections that you expect to receive and address your solutions to them. Presenting the objections upfront by yourself, shows that you really thought this through and it will support your case.
  • How will you report your performance? – in the last year and a half we all have had a challenging time, adjusting to the work from home and having to learn to communicate in different ways to make sure our work is still recognised and appreciated. Think how you could enrich this going forward. What would be your KPIs? Milestones in the near future? How will you report your success to your boss?
  • What would be the arrangement? – suggest a number of days when you could come to the office if absolutely necessary (for example once or twice a month). You can also suggest a trial basis to ease the business into the idea.

Start introducing the idea

Once you have exhausted the above topics, you can start introducing the idea to your boss. Start mentioning during your catch-ups that you enjoy working from home, you can even mention that you would love to continue doing so, but just throw it into the conversation and don’t expect any answer. You can mention that your stakeholders are planning to continue video meetings or that it’s easier to focus in the quiet environment of your own home.

This is not a must-do step, but it is the way I like to approach it. This gives me a chance to ease my boss into thinking about it and getting them on board in a gentle way. It is also a great opportunity to spot if they are keen on the idea or are a bit hesitant.

When I requested to continue work from home the last time this is exactly what I did. I slowly introduced the idea, poked here and there to see how my boss is reacting. I also took his personal experiences with WFH to show that I understand the challenges and that we are on the same page in the end.

Once I saw that my boss is open to the idea (he was not at the beginning!) I moved on to the next step.

Advertisements

Ask during a catch up

A good option before officially asking to work from home is to advise your boss that you will be making the request. If your work environment is a bit more formal, you can send an official email, but if it is more relaxed you can just say during your regular catch up ‘Hey, X, I would like to discuss working from home after we return to the office during our next catch up. Let’s have a chat if we could make this work’.

If you were introducing this idea slowly, your boss will not be surprised that you want to officially ask for this and it might be easier to move this forward.

Before the next meeting, make sure you read through the list that you made during the planning phase.

  • Pick 3 benefits to the company (and your boss if there is a good one),
  • bring up 1-2 objections and show the solutions for them,
  • give a high level idea of reporting your performance
  • and suggest the working schedule – here a little tip. If you are ok with working few times a month from the office, suggest only once or completely remote. You can then get to the desired outcome during the negotiations. I wouldn’t start with giving up all your leverage and suggesting more days in the office, as it is quite likely your company will want to increase the number of days you suggest.

Follow up with an official email

After the catch-up and the conversation with your boss – even if they are negative about the idea or even say no initially, make sure that you follow up with an official email. Regardless of if your work environment is official or relaxed, this is a good practice as helps you document what was said and gives your boss a tool – they can forward your email to the decision-makers without having to come out with their own explanation, why should you work from home.

Keep the email simple and repeat the same key messages that you mentioned in your conversation. If your boss has raised any objections, make sure that you address them here as well.

Advertisements

What if they say no?

That’s a risk, but what if they say yes? There is nothing wrong with asking questions.

Just remember that negative answer doesn’t mean that you can’t negotiate well or that you didn’t prepare well enough. Very often these decisions have nothing to do with your ‘pitch’, but more with internal policies.

If it’s still a remote role that you want, but the company said no? There is plenty remote or more flexible roles right now on the market, as companies realise that this is the way to recruit the best talent. Don’t be afraid to reach out outside of your company and see what’s available!

Have you asked your boss to work from home yet?

If this is the type of work conditions you want – make sure you follow the steps and actually ask the question!

Advertisements

Let me know in the comments if you have done it, how it felt and if you got your request approved!

Rooting for you!

What is stakeholder analysis and why should you start doing it?

Stakeholder analysis is a great tool to have in your quiver especially when starting a new job

Have you ever been in a situation where you were trying to deliver a project but somehow you couldn’t get traction with the stakeholders? Or maybe you just started a new job and are trying to figure out who to talk to? Or you just moved from an SME to a corporation and you became overwhelmed with the number of people you are supposed to meet and talk to? Stakeholder analysis can be the first step to move projects forward or to understand the new environment you found yourself in.

If you are not sure who stakeholders actually are, and why are they important, check out this article.

What is stakeholder analysis?

Stakeholder analysis is a range of techniques and tools to identify and understand the needs and expectations of the people involved in the project and the ones that the project may affect.

Usually used in project management, stakeholder analysis can also be a great tool when entering a new company to understand who should you be talking to, regardless of your projects. Who can support you going forward, who can be an ally? It is a great tool to build an understanding of the dynamics and politics within the company.

Why should you do a stakeholder analysis?

One of the most important aspects of stakeholder analysis is that it saves you time in the long run. Knowing who is who and what are their levels of influence and interest, what goals are they trying to achieve, or even what communication style they prefer is a great asset to your career within the company.

Having done stakeholder analysis, you can also leverage the knowledge and wisdom of key players in the business. Talking to them, sharing your projects or intentions, and asking for their input can help when establishing what projects are even worth pursuing.

When working on a particular project, having done stakeholder analysis can be useful as well to address issues and conflicts early on. You might have a potential high-power stakeholder, who has objections to the project. Listening to them early on and addressing their concerns, can help you earn their approval and prepare you for future conversations – you will already know which elements are they most worried about.

Steps for a good quality stakeholder analysis

The general consensus is that stakeholder analysis is a 4-step process:

  1. Identifying stakeholders
  2. Prioritizing them
  3. Understanding them
  4. Engaging them

The first step seems to be very simple – identify the people who will be impacted by your project. If this is your first week in the role, you might however find it difficult to establish who might be your stakeholder.

I have therefore created an 8-step process to help you go through this analysis with ease:

  1. Talk to your boss and team – ask them who would they recommend to talk to? Who do they regularly communicate with? They have been in the company longer than you so might already have some good insights into who is important for you – use their knowledge as soon as possible.
  2. Create a list of people to talk to – yes, even if you have a great memory – write it down! You will be surprised in a few months how much you have forgotten from these early days. Make a list in your preferred tool. I use Excel, which helps me with the further steps.
  3. Schedule short meetings with people on the list – it’s never a bad thing to schedule a courtesy meeting to meet someone new. Aim for 30 min networking chats, make sure that you ask a lot of questions about the person’s role in the company and/or find out their interest about the project that you are running. Share your background and a short info about your project. Don’t overwhelm with detais though and focus on finding out the most from the person.
  4. Rate stakeholders on a scale of 1-10 – (1 being low and 10 being high) in terms of influence and interest (in your project or even in your success overall). The basic theory is to only rate the stakeholder as low/high on these two scales, however, assigning the numbers like this can help you place them more accurate and understand your priorities better, especially when you have a large group of stakeholders.
  5. Map your stakeholders – using the scales from point 4 map your stakeholders on the below grid. For example: your boss can have a medium high influence (7) and a high interest (10). He would end up in the upper right corner.

6. Plan your engagement – for example, the ‘Manage closely’ section would require frequent 121 meetings and discussions, ‘Keep informed’ could be managed by team meetings, ‘Meet their needs’ could take part in surveys, and ‘Regular minimal contact’ be updated via newsletters. Make sure that your engagement plan works for you.

7. Build a schedule – plan for the duration of your project or on an annual basis. I like to plan everything in Excel (decide for example the frequency – weekly/monthly/quarterly) and then move it to the calendar. You might not want to overwhelm someone with recurring meetings before they get to know you better, so keep an eye on your Excel spreadsheet to schedule these regularly.

8. Engage – if you followed the process, this part will be the easiest. Starting from ‘high interest’ stakeholders you can build a really good picture of the project/company politics and benefit from your meetings.

Start doing your stakeholder analysis today

Regardless if you have been in the company for a while or you just starting, doing a stakeholder analysis will be beneficial. Remember to start asking people closest to you, teammates, and your boss, who do they believe to be of importance to you, and the rest will follow.

Let me know in the comments if you would like a more detailed article about stakeholder mapping and if you would add any additional steps to this analysis.