Most people begin new jobs in a honeymoon period marked by high expectations and great optimism. And that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, especially at non-senior levels, the honeymoon can morph into a new-job hangover – marked by doubts and disenchantment – often in about six months.
And, today, with millions and millions of Americans currently in either of those two phases, the question of “how-do-I-succeed” is paramount.
Scope of the Issue
The magnitude of the challenge is significant.
· The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics measures what it classifies as total separations (essentially resignations, layoffs and discharges). In May, separations totaled 6.0 million, with “quits” at 4.3 million.
· The number of hires, meanwhile, was 6.5 million, implying that those Americans who resigned found new positions. And, if the picture painted by the numbers is on the mark, those who were furloughed or terminated are working as well.
This talent migration is “bigger than anything we’ve seen before … an unprecedented moment in the history of work where all of us are rethinking not just how we work, but why we work,” says Ryan Roslansky, Chief Executive Officer of LinkedIn.
Great … but Challenging
Roslansky characterizes this development as “a great thing” – and it may well be for employees as a whole. But navigating it as an individual can be daunting: disenchanted employees need to determine whether or not they’re actually experiencing a hangover – or, in fact, a strong signal that they made a mistake.
There is a difference.
· A new job hangover arguably is the phase where the “new-opportunity shine” wears off. The position may still be a good fit and the prospects may still be attractive. But you are disenchanted, the job isn’t as exciting as you thought it would be and you’re starting to get concerned about how you feel about it. You may not even know why you are disenchanted.
· A mistake in taking the new job, however, more likely means you have a clearer sense of your feelings. You are beginning to understand that your decision-making likely was faulty in the first place or that you misunderstood or were misled.
Individuals logically are focused on attractive attributes of a new job before day one. “That can create a motivational state called a promotion focus, which makes you more sensitive to positive things in your environment,” says Art Markman, Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin.
“But once you start work and there are responsibilities you have to deal with, you’re more likely to adapt a prevention focus, which naturally focuses on the negative things. The perfect job doesn’t feel as perfect anymore.”
Hangover or Mistake?
Individuals second-guessing their decisions need to determine whether they made a mistake (and need to go elsewhere) or are simply disenchanted (which can be addressed and potentially cured).
Advice: Call timeout and reexamine your current thinking.
If low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected are causing your concern, there’s a 50-50 likelihood you made a mistake. Observes the Pew Research Center: “For the most part, workers who quit a job last year and are now employed somewhere else see their current work situation as an improvement over their most recent job,” Pew states.
Hangovers are something different and ideally can be addressed to some degree. Here are some steps that can help.
Self-Assess the Role
· Remember your “contract(s).” You entered into multiple “contracts.” The first is a document sitting in a file drawer in Human Resources. The second is with yourself. The third is the professional interaction you had with the decision-maker who hired you.
Before you declare yourself burned out, or unhappy, or suffering from a job hangover, go back to that day when you committed to your current position. Reexamine what attracted you to the job, what got you excited.
Ask yourself: Were you wrong and the reasons you took the job just don‘t exist now, or is it a timing or difficulty issue? If you were wrong and they don’t exist, make sure you step back and look at the opportunity with a fresh perspective. It’s not unusual to find attractive, albeit different, paths that will re-ignite your feelings.
· Explore culture shock. You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last to find adapting to a new culture challenging. But just because the internal vibe causes you to do a double-take every once in a while, doesn’t mean you can’t/won’t succeed.
Try to understand the culture. More importantly, dissect it to learn how it came about. Talk with those who have been there for a while. There’s a good chance you will discover culture elements that resonate and help you to better align with the company.
Feeling Unduly Stressed
· Pinpoint source of stress. Obviously, stress should not be ignored or downplayed. However, there is a case to be made that your stress level really isn’t always indicative of what’s going in your work life. Observes Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022: More employees (44%) feel more stress than ever before at work, but only some is because of work; some they bring to the job. And remote workers have an even bigger challenge.
Determine the exact source of your stress and get a better sense of whether it is work related or something you bring to your job. If you can identify how much of it you bring to the workplace, you have a chance to better assess how you feel about your position and what your job really offers.
· Embrace the learning curve. Feeling overwhelmed about what you need to know/learn/do at your job is not a sign to give up. Instead, view it this way: you have a job with potential and a job in which you can demonstrate your abilities and be noticed.
Learning curves exist at every level. They are how we build skills. Senior people realize they are part of their responsibilities; younger people, especially first timers, often misjudge them as negatives. Instead, view the learning curve as an attractive aspect of your position. Look at the individual pieces, rather the total task.
· Revisit/reset goals. Ideally, you set goals when you accepted the new position. But the chances are high, no matter how talented or experienced you are, that you were at least somewhat ill-informed about all the ins and outs of your new role. Based on what you know now, re-articulate your goals and determine how they make you feel. And then embrace the new goals; ideally, they will provide a fresh perspective on your position and opportunity.
· Adjust time-management approach. Concerns about time management rank highly as to why employees feel overwhelmed in a new position. Fortunately, while certain things (meetings, for instance) may be out of your control, others are totally within your purview to change. Review your schedule for the past few months and give each slot on the schedule a grade to help determine if you were making good decisions about your availability. You’ll realize you can do better.
Do You Have Clarity?
· Increase in-person contacts. Declare a minimal email/phone day. Get out of your office or work space and do your questions, scheduling and checking-in face to face. Bring a coffee to a co-worker: direct reports, supervisor or peer. 1:1 Zooms are the next best option if you aren’t co-located with co-workers. The internal information pipeline may not be regularly making itself available to you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t access it.
· Meet with your supervisor. Feeling concerned about your position and the decision you made doesn’t have to wait until your regularly scheduled performance review. If the coffee outreach mentioned above doesn’t get you a sit-down with your supervisor – and an opportunity to discuss your concerns –take the next step and set up a formal meeting. Don’t be reticent about bringing your questions to the boss. Here’s a piece of news: there’s a very good chance he or she already senses you are struggling.
The “Great Resignation” has become the “Great Reshuffle” and many individuals may be doubting their decisions. But new-job hangovers don’t always signify a mistake. Take the time to understand your feelings and your situation before you make what may be another rash decision.