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Why workplace problems follow you when you change your job

When someone asks you why you left your last job what do you say? And the job before that? It might be worth trying to spot a common thread. Dr Arlene Walker, Associate Head of School (Rural and Regional Development) in Deakin University’s School of Psychology says that sometimes, when you break up with a workplace it’s not them, it’s, well…you.

So what are some of the problems follow people from workplace to workplace? And how can you tackle them for once and for all?

Problem 1: issues you can’t control

When working as an employee support psychologist, Dr Walker often saw people becoming miserable because they were focusing on issues they couldn’t control. She says this is particularly rife in sectors that rely on State or Federal Government funding. ‘The individual can’t control the allocation of resources yet they spend all of their energy focusing on that rather than the things they can control,’ Dr Walker explains. ‘I think that can become debilitating for some people.’

While it can be stressful to work in an under-resourced role, Dr Walker says that there can be ways to stay positive and productive: ‘it’s about shifting your focus to topics like how to divvy up the work, how to use the resources that you’ve got, how to work better as a team.’ Looking for strategies to get around the issue of stretched resources can take away that feeling of powerlessness.

Problem 2: dealing with problematic people

We’ve all heard someone moan about a colleague they have difficulty working with. Dr Walker says that sometimes people become fixated on other people’s behaviour and sometimes they quit their job to get away from the situation. ‘The context changes the issues do not,’ she explains. ‘You have challenging people in every workplace. You need strategies to deal with them.’

So what type of strategies work? Dr Walker encourages people to have informal conversations with someone if they have found their behaviour inappropriate, offensive or challenging. ‘I suggest people say “Is everything okay? This happened yesterday and it seemed to be out of character so I just wanted to check that you’re all right.”’ Having a conversation in an informal setting, perhaps over a coffee, can help lighten the mood.

If you’ve attempted to deal with poor behaviour and you’re not getting anywhere then you might want to go that next step of talking to a manager or human resources about strategies to deal with it. ‘In my experience, most of the time when people behave poorly to others, once it’s raised and the other party is aware of it, that is often enough to kerb it,’ Dr Walker says.

'You have challenging people in every workplace. You need strategies to deal with them.'

Dr Arlene Walker,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

Problem 3: unmanageable workload

Another reason some people change jobs is an issue with their workload. While sometimes workloads are genuinely unmanageable, Dr Walker says some situations are compounded by factors the individual could work on. ‘Sometimes it comes down to the employee’s own lack of time management strategies or their inability to say no,’ she explains. ‘This causes the job to become unmanageable and results in stress and an inability to cope.’

Dr Walker says that being organised, anticipating busy periods and asking for additional resources can all make a difference. ‘If you can plan ahead, things get swapped around and shared out evenly and then everybody’s much happier,’ she says. ‘It’s about being a step ahead.’

Another strategy that may help with workload issues is mindfulness training. ‘Mindfulness is the new buzzword in the workplace,’ Dr Walker explains. ‘At the end of the day it’s about people being in the present and focussing on the tasks at hand and doing one thing at a time.

Problem 4: obstacles blocking your goals

One other issue is when people have a disappointment in the workplace and find it difficult to move on. Applying for a promotion or new position or expecting some acknowledgment or award can be upsetting if things don’t go your way. ‘Going through that process makes you feel vulnerable,’ Dr Walker says. ‘You start to question yourself and you may not feel valued.’ Dr Walker says this doesn’t have to be a reason to leave your job. She suggests waiting for things to settle instead of immediately jumping ship: ‘I think sometimes you’ve just got to take a little bit more time so you can make an informed decision rather than an irrational decision.’

Solution: look at yourself before you leap

When it comes to being happy and successful at work you have to be honest with yourself. Dr Walker has seen many people make behavioural changes that have shifted their work life drastically and allowed them to stay in a job they might otherwise have left. ‘At the end of the day it’s all about acknowledging there’s an issue and then getting the right help to deal with it,’ she says. ‘Sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side.’

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Dr Arlene Walker
Dr Arlene Walker

Associate Head of School (Rural and Regional Development), School of Psychology, Deakin University

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