Unhappiness or a general sense of not being fulfilled is pretty common these days. Sometimes it’s as simple as being in the wrong career or industry — one that doesn’t suit your skills or interests. While it might seem that that would’ve been more obvious at the start, a lot of folks fall into this pattern if the money is good or the job provides valuable stability in other areas of life.

The work environment, however, may be the culprit of more of one’s emotional challenges than presumed.

1. A Culture Built Solely On Competition

Competition can be healthy, particularly when it pushes us to do more than we thought we could. But usually that kind of competition involves some encouragement.

Offering a monthly bonus for the highest producing employee can be a good thing, but not if it means someone else loses their job, gets demoted, or constantly feels that their contributions aren’t recognized.

Good leaders recognize this and can work to make sure everyone feels included and heard. When employees feel like they’re a part of a team ultimately working together to accomplish goals, their work feels far more meaningful. When the work becomes simply the means by which not to be fired, it symbolizes little else.

Imagine what that does to drive?

Furthermore, this can trigger negative interactions between departments or coworkers, people that otherwise may have worked well collaboratively but instead feel that they must outdo each other. In creative lines of work, particularly, this is bad for everyone.

  • The client loses out because the finished product likely would’ve been better as the sum of all creativity involved. Instead, it’s reflective only of the team’s “alpha”, even if its scope is limited.
  • Management loses out because they don’t get the opportunity to really harness the power of collective ideas since everyone involved is concerned most about protecting their jobs. They may turn a profit and think the business is successful, and have no idea how much further the team could’ve gone.
  • The employees lose out because they take nothing positive away from work each day, except perhaps for the one who is recognized most for performance. But even for that individual the praise is linked to numbers, and that person must be aware that the praise disappears as soon as he or she stops performing at that level. That can lead to burn out. For everyone else on the team, a job that is only about survival does nothing positive for them at work or with what they bring home with them emotionally.

2. Management Is Focusing On The Wrong Metrics

The classic example of a board overly focused on meeting quarterly revenue projections at the expense of all else. In that example, it’s shortsighted because what generates fast cash is rarely the same thing as what’s good for the company longer term.

I worked for a company years ago that offered small bonuses for having high customer satisfaction in surveys. But the company also offered a substantially higher bonus for revenue generated each month. If an account manager hustled hard and focused on checking off bullet lists, they could earn a bonus so large it nearly doubled their salary for the month. Comparatively, the best bonus possible for customer satisfaction would pay for a nice dinner with a spouse.

Before long, the team felt they had no choice but to rush through projects because management harped on revenue numbers constantly. It was impossible to take a different attitude or say, “Eh, the big bonus isn’t important to me. I want to keep my customers happy and work at a comfortable pace.”

Management created an atmosphere where if you weren’t in the lead, you felt invisible and were always wondering if you’d still have a job next month. Once a person or two indeed got let go, morale tanked hard.

The company tried to do “team spirit” activities like a company softball team, company picnics, etc., but most people attended out of a sense of obligation and spent the whole time wishing they were back at their desks working on those numbers. No one had time to be friends.

Management was confused. “We’ve provided activities shown to improve morale. Why isn’t anyone happy?”

The company has to be profitable for everyone to continue getting a paycheck, certainly. But if that’s all the company is striving for, that’s all that is likely to happen.

(And the financial drawbacks to large numbers of unhappy customers is another article unto itself.)

3. You Don’t See A Clear Path For Growth

What happens if you do a great job for a year straight, continuously proving reliable and exceeding expectations? If the answer isn’t clear, you may find yourself wondering when a promotion or raise is possible, or if management is even open to it.

This may not matter to you if you’re simply looking for a stable place to work each day and receive a paycheck that satisfies your needs. But if you’re actively trying to advance your career you recognize that each working year you spend needs to be building toward a future goal.

When it’s not clear what the advancement opportunities are, you have no way to know if you’re in a dead-end position or have a future at the company.

This can also happen in environments where employees are promoted solely on seniority and not work ethic or performance. You may not feel the drive to excel if it’s obvious that Bob is getting that promotion because he’s been here 2 years longer than you. And if Bob’s promotion is the last one likely to happen for awhile, it can be disheartening.

4. Dictator “Leadership”

Leadership is in quotes because a leader leads by example and inspiration. When one resorts to pure authority, one is simply a manager. People will listen because they have no choice, but will take less pride in the work.

Also, this relates to #3 because when it’s clear management is not open to the team’s suggestions, doesn’t take their needs or challenges into account, or ultimately doesn’t seem open to change, the drive for advancement diminishes.

For instance, why would you want to be promoted to management in a company where it’s clear nothing changes? Any hope of being able to fix things you’re experiencing in your current role? Seems less likely.

Why stop to think of ideas or how you can make others, and customers, happier? Just do what you’re told and keep collecting a check. Yikes.

5. High Turnover

Successful companies run by solid leaders generally have little turnover. This is because they make better hiring decisions initially, but also because those leaders believe in remediation rather than simply punishment.

It’s common in a workplace like that to be there several years and still work with the same people you began with. You know everyone’s name, and you rely on one another.

Consider the alternative. You work somewhere where no one seems to last very long. Whether it’s a hectic work pace that a lot of people can’t handle, or management is quick to fire over offenses or performance.

You probably tend to keep to yourself, since learning everyone’s name may not be worthwhile since they may not be here next month. It’s tough to build a sense of camaraderie here since you never know where you stand.

Don’t let justifications like “Well, this seems pretty common,” or “all my friends have it the same in their jobs,” stop you.

You may not be able to make a move right away, but acknowledging you’re in a toxic environment is an important first step toward getting control of your emotional wellbeing.

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