If you’ve been in the same job for a while, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. You’ve been there, done it and got the T-shirt. You’re no longer excited or energised by your role and find yourself simply going through the motions.
For some people, a bit of predictability and stability is no bad thing and they are quite happy in their comfort zone. For others, it’s a boring and frustrating place to be and they crave new challenges that will stretch them to the max.
Whatever side of the fence you’re sitting on, the reality is that in today’s competitive, fast-moving world of work, stagnating in your role is not an option. If you want to keep hold of your job, you can’t afford to keep your head down and maintain the status quo. If you want to avoid being trampled on by bright young things on their way up, you need to keep your skills up-to-date and your perspective fresh.
Managers often mistakenly assume people in their 50s and 60s are on a slow path to retirement.
So what can you do to get out of a rut and regain the flush of excitement you (hopefully) had in the early days of your role?
1. Examine why you’re in a rut
If you feel you’ve lost your mojo, take a step back and think about why that might be. Do you feel you’ve been overlooked for new opportunities? Have you become demotivated because you rarely get any feedback or praise from your boss and making an effort just doesn’t seem worth it? Or maybe you sense that your voice just isn’t being heard any more and are fed up of your great ideas being quashed? Recognising what’s going on for you is the first step towards being able to tackle whatever has got you into a rut in the first place. Everyone gets fed up in their role from time to time, thanks to irritating colleagues, projects that don’t go according to plan or events that conspire to defeat you. The key is to work out whether you’re experiencing a temporary blip that you can lift yourself out of, or whether there’s a more ingrained sense of dissatisfaction you need to deal with.
2. Clarify your goal
What needs to happen for you to start feeling better about your job? Do you want more responsibility or a promotion within the team? Is there a specific project you really want to get involved in? Would an opportunity to be seconded to another part of the business light your eyes up? It’s important to recognise that goals don’t always have to be big or involve moving up the ladder. Sometimes quite small changes, such as a shift to more flexible hours, can make a real difference to the way you feel. Often, in the later stages of our careers, a sideways move or the opportunity to share your knowledge with others can be just as satisfying as the big promotion. Whatever your goal, name it, share it and have a plan for getting there.
3. Actively seek new opportunities
Managers often (mistakenly) assume that people in their 50s and 60s are on a slow path to retirement and are not going to be interested in new opportunities. They consign older workers to the corner, regarding them as a safe pair of hands for the routine work of the team, rather than individuals who could drive new initiatives forward. If you’re going to overcome this stereotype, you need to actively put yourself out there. If a new project is on the horizon in your department, make it clear you want to be part of it rather than waiting to be asked. If you’ve heard rumblings about a new initiative in another area of the business, seek the senior person out and make sure they know about the expertise you could bring. If there’s nothing work-related in the offing, look around to see if there are any voluntary projects you could engage with – becoming a sustainability champion for example, or acting as a mentor for less experienced members of staff.
4. Re-ignite your thirst for learning
It’s never too late to learn, and in today’s chaotic and unpredictable business environment, keeping your skills up-to-date is vital. More mature employees tend to get pushed to the back of the queue when it comes to training, so this is another area where it pays to be assertive. Identify what kind of training would add value to your role, do some research into appropriate courses and present your boss with a business case. Don’t assume that an expensive ‘taught’ course is the only option. There is a now a wealth of training available on-line, some of which is either free or very low-cost. If you get push-back because of budget constraints, think more creatively about how you might add to your skill-set. Look out for informative blogs or webinars, suggest a temporary job swap with a colleague or seek out a mentor who could help you build your skills and put a spring back in your step.
5. Get outside your bubble
It’s surprising what you can learn from getting outside of your corporate bubble and mixing in new circles. Re-energise yourself by attending conferences and exhibitions from outside your sector to see what approaches or ideas might translate well into your role. Make a point of expanding your network. If you’re a member of a professional body go along to their events to keep up with the latest thinking. Search Eventbrite to see if there are any interesting business speakers coming to your area or sign up for TED talks to stimulate you with new ideas. Read widely to keep up with what’s going on in your profession and the wider business world, so that when you need to speak up at meetings, you can show you are relevant and have your finger on the pulse.
Please comment below if you have any suggestions for how to avoid stagnation at work.