What to do when things feel off at work, but you don’t know why

I think most of us at some point (unless we’re very lucky!) can get that niggling feeling that things are just a bit ‘off’ on the work-front.

Sometimes, there’s an obvious reason for it, and that makes it a lot easier to do something about it.

But what do you do when you just can’t seem to put your finger on what the problem is?

All you know is you’ve lost your mojo, the spark has gone, or there’s just a low-level niggle that you’re not enjoying work quite as much as you used to. You know something needs to change, but what is it?

Here are some things you can do to start unpacking what’s going on. Once you know that, you’ll be in a much better position to deal with it and get that spark back.

  1. Do not ignore it

When we feel a bit fed up, but we’re not sure why, it’s really tempting to just ignore it, and hope that things will get better, because hoping for the best feels easier than doing something about it.

Unfortunately, hoping for the best is a strategy that rarely pays off.

Yes, it’s hard to face up to the fact that something’s not working, and it can be confusing trying to work it out. But I promise you, taking control and dealing with it is a whole lot better and much more empowering than just letting it stew.

So, find a bit of time to think, get a pen and paper and make a start.

  • Approach it like a project

OK, let’s revert to a bit of a research analogy here. Work out what you’re trying to achieve, do some objective analysis and you’ll get some insights! Breaking it down into smaller chunks is much easier to tackle than trying to figure out the answer to the one big question of ‘what’s wrong?’.

Start with the objectives – focusing on some specific goals or measures is much more useful and easier to deal with than just thinking you want things to be ‘better’ or ‘different’.

Get as detailed as you can. What is it that you want to feel, that you’re not feeling, or that you want to happen that’s not happening? What’s missing? What does feeling good about work look like for you? (And if you’re not clear on that, try some visualisation)

Do some analysis – when did things start to change? What was going on at that point?  Think back to the last time you felt really good about work and work forward from there. What’s changed since then? Is there anything you can identify as a trigger? Carry out an audit of your role. What parts are you happy with? And what elements are you not enjoying – and why?

Asking the ‘why’ question throughout is really important to help you delve deeper. So for example, rather than concluding – I’m not happy because I’m spending too much time working on X client account, ask yourself, why is that a problem? Maybe it’s because you don’t share that client’s values, or you’re not interested in that category. Maybe it requires you to use a skill that you’re not comfortable with. Maybe you feel that your voice isn’t heard in the project team.

Whatever it is, try to get to the heart of what’s going on. That will make it much easier to figure out what to do about it.

Identify the insights – once you’ve spent a bit of time on the analysis, you can start figuring out what it all means. What is all this data telling you? Look at it honestly and objectively, and the insights should be there.

Now, you should be in a place to set some recommendations for yourself! To shape your actions, try asking yourself questions like:

  • What could I do here? What are the options?
  • What do I need to put in place to move forward?
  • Who could help me with this?
  • Are there any skills I need to develop?
  • Don’t panic!

It’s totally normal for the shine to come off every now and again. But feeling a bit meh doesn’t necessarily mean it’s game over and it’s time to go out and find a new job. Yes – that might be the conclusion you come to, and that’s fine if it is. And if it is, at least you can start your search with clarity about what you want and need, because you’ve done the work! But often, some small tweaks are all that’s required to get things back on track.

As they say – knowledge is power. So rather than hoping it will just go away, spend a bit of time calmly and objectively working through what’s going on, make a plan and then you’ll be in a good position to take action and banish the fed up feeling!