Bad Day at work
We’ve all had them, those days when nothing seems to go right and we start to consider our options. Is it time to jump ship? Well, DON’T PANIC! Before we throw the baby out with the bath water, it’s probably wise to take a step back and get things into perspective. In this article we’ll look at some tactics for coping with that bad day at work.
- Be prepared: Get ready for the ‘off’: Sometimes, even after we’ve tried the tactics of surviving a bad day at work, we realise that it really is too much. That it’s time to move on. Even then, it’s important to step back and to move forward carefully. There are three basic steps that we need to bear in mind:
- Be Grateful: stay out of drama. Now is not the time to seek out the ‘misery club’. We all know who I mean; all those folks who hang around and wail about how terrible it all is. Maybe it’s in the coffee room, around the photocopier or even outside in the yard. Let’s give those folks a wide berth right now. If we’re already feeling on a low ebb, the last thing we need is to indulge is a pity party with others. Misery loves company, so why would why would we seek it out and offer ourselves up to it? Instead, let’s be grateful for what we’ve got. Let’s enjoy what work brings you, even if it’s a bad day at work today. Appreciating what we have beyond work (friends, family or home) will put this bad day at work into a better perspective and help to turn it around. Yeah, we have a life. If it’s in work, we’re probably living our passion; if it’s away from the job then we know why we’re there, right now, even in that bad day at work. A little perspective will help us talk more positively about life and a better vibe will emerge. Faced with our radiance, the misery makers will fade away.
- Add something: Change the pattern. If the bad days at work are becoming more frequent, there may be something systemic going on. How about learning a new skill, changing the process, brainstorming new ideas with colleagues or justifying a new project to the boss? All these can make a material change to our workplace and will certainly give us a better sense of control in our jobs. It’s always best if we can take control of that bad day at work. And take steps to stopping them coming back again and again.
- Look forward: Believe the unbelievable. As we wipe away the poop, that the bird of fortune has dropped on us, we can always look beyond the present situation. Although it doesn’t feel like it right now, we know that this too shall pass. Things will come good again. Let’s cast our minds forward to the time when it’ll be back to smooth running. If we unhook from the ‘now’ for a moment, we can imagine the good times to come. See the pot of gold ahead. Now, let’s be specific, imagine the good things to come. I’m not putting out an invitation to catastrophize all the bad things than might happen from this bad day at work. Life really is a pot of gold, not a crock of crud. When we believe in a good future, it’s more likely to happen.
- Shift it: Change it up. So, things aren’t working well today; that’s ok. There are often opportunities for changing the tasks at hand. Swapping tasks will usually break the downward cycle and get us succeeding again. Success breeds success and we’ll soon find our attitudes shifting. With a more positive attitude in place, good things will begin to happen once again. Depending on your job, the change may only be for ten minutes or, maybe, the whole day. If that document is driving you nuts, move onto a spreadsheet. If the books won’t balance, do some invoicing. In extreme cases, do something simple and mundane: I catch up on my shredding, put away that pile of files, call a client and set up a lunch. We have lots of opportunity to turn a bad day at work by catching ourselves doing something right.
- Smile: Shrug and laugh. It’s not just an old wives’ tale that ‘laughter is the best medicine’ and it really does help change our perspective. The physical acts of smiling and laughing out loud cause chemical changes in our brains (all those delicious endorphins) and shift our minds to a better place. It may sound mad but I hold a pencil sideways between my teeth and gently stretch my mouth into a ‘fake’ smile. Try it, it works! You’ll have a real smile within five or ten seconds and things won’t seem so bad. Or we can get up, find a friend or colleague and laugh it out. No need to make it a tale of catastrophe but simply describe the ridiculousness of it all. Or if nobody’s around, just sit at the desk and chuckle. In the last resort, I’ve sent individuals into the supplies room, or out to the street and laugh it out. You’ll be amazed how quickly a bad day at work can turn around by not taking it too seriously.
- Look back: Let’s remember how good we are. We can all recognise that we’ve had mishaps and sticky situations before…. and we’re still here: We didn’t get fired, we didn’t quit and nobody died. No, we coped with that bad day at work and we carried on. We can learn from previous bad days at work by taking a note of what happened last time around and how we managed to get through it. Look at the actions we did then and ‘bottle them’. That’s right, see the pattern of recoveries from the past and turn them into our own system for a bad day at work. Then, open the bottle, take a sip of our own medicine and work our own system to take command of a bad day at work and turn it around.
- False Start: Getting off on the wrong foot. A bad day at work often begins with a bad start before we even get there: We’ve overslept, the kids wouldn’t get ready; the train was late. And then the rest of the day just seems to get progressively worse. Well again, DON’T PANIC! We know we’ve got the whole day ahead and it’s pointless getting knocked down at the first hurdle. OK, it’s a bummer, but what’s happened has happened. Fretting about it can’t make it un-happen. So, let’s stop and take a breath. Deal with the immediate situation and take another breath. Reset the dials in our heads and look forward to the rest of the day with as much composure as we can muster. We can simply choose to have a better perspective if we look for opportunities and wins instead of shortcomings and faults. We know that continuing in a negative frame of mind will only make us perform worse and bad things will continue to happen. By simply pausing for a moment we can usually get over the moment and take a fresh start. Remember, we’re normally that high value superstar, that everyone appreciates, and one little glitch doesn’t suddenly turn us into failures. There’s no need to make a bad incident become a bad day at work
Reality Check: Some days really ARE bad, so let’s get real for a moment. Some days really can be the worst day of our life: death of a loved one, being fired, our home burns down… yep, that would qualify as a truly ‘bad day at work’. But let’s face it, these are exceptional days and need all of our resilience. But, most likely a ‘bad day at work’ is nothing like that. No, it’s probably more about the mounting levels of minutia that pile up and make us want to give up; or the nagging boss that’s on our case; or losing that deal that we’ve been fighting for. So let’s get a sense of perspective; are we having a bad day at work or a catastrophic day? Let’s save our energies for the really bad ones and learn to deal with the normal bad days more successfully. And it starts with that simple reality check.
- Seek Help: We need to consider if we need some external support. Friends, colleagues and family have all had bad days at work too and may be able to lend a listening ear or share some practical advice about what helps them cope. In extreme cases, it may even be time to seek help from a professional coach or therapists. Maybe work has an Employee Assistance Programme that we can call upon. Whatever else, it’s important for us to remember that we are not in this alone. Recognising our limits and reaching out will often make things better just with that simple action. I’ve seen some remarkable turnarounds in clients in my own coaching work. It all begins with awareness and acceptance and that bad at work can begin to look easier to bear. Those other people probably can’t fix the problem itself but talking it out will clear your mind and motivate you into positive action.
- Don’t jeopardise: live through the short-term to get to the long term. So, even if we are ready to move on we’ll probably want a smooth transition. So, it’s important to maintain a positive mental attitude towards ourselves, our work, our colleagues and our bosses. A bad day at work (or even bad days) is no reason to ruin our prestige and reputation in the short-term. We need to hang in there and maintain good opinions throughout. Keep smiling and share whatever joy we still have.
- Plan your escape: It’s never a good idea to close our eyes and simply jump into the unknown. Our bad day at work will be made more tolerable, even if we’ve decided to leave, when we have a plan and are putting it into action. Once again, we need to step back and develop a strategy. Let’s be realistic about how long it might take, to reconsider what we actually want to do next and where we might find it. Remember, each change is an opportunity to renew or reinvent. Maybe more of the same in a different place isn’t what we need this time around. I’ve helped many clients plan their transitions and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much better they feel, just by working on a plan. In fact, I’ve even had a couple of clients that have decided to stay put. Merely having worked out a plan, or an alternative, has been enough to make the present situation workable. In short, there is no benefit in allowing a bad day at work ‘bounce’ us into a knee jerk reaction. Think it through: plan the move and move the plan.
These have been a few simple tips for dealing with a bad day ate work. If you find that you are suffering them more severely or more frequently, it may be time to take more strategic. Why not have a look at the rest of this Career Resilience series for some more fundamental ideas. Or check out these Epiphanies offerings