Mike Connell

The Big Question: Why Are You Unhappy at Work?

By: Mike Connell | May 11, 2018 | 
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Unhappy at WorkAs communication professionals, we aren’t saving lives. We’re generally behind-the-scenes when it comes to brand success and the first to get the blame when campaigns don’t meet expectations.

That’s okay. We get it. We know the job of a communicator can be isolating and stressful.

It’s for those very reasons that we conceptualized and launched the PR Dream Team last year.

But as much as we can nourish and support our communications family, an unfortunate fact remains top of mind…

In a recent Spin Sucks Instagram survey, a shocking 70 percent of respondents said they would switch their career in PR and marketing if they could start over.

So, the next Big Question asks:

Why are so many communicators unhappy at work?

The Concept of Career

Knowing you have a support team and resources to rely upon can make all the difference, but truth be told, if we’re going to have a discussion about job satisfaction, let’s be real.

Generally, the days of knowing what you want to do right out of school or during your first foray in the workforce—and doing it happily and successfully until you retire—are dwindling, if not outright gone.

And that’s not a bad thing.

The concept of career has changed.

Back “in the day,” careers were started, and then set in stone.

They were transactional experiences focusing on longevity, security, and your ability to provide.

Today, employees look for meaning in their employment.

Which is a good thing, right?

But that goal, that sense of well-being and satisfaction becomes more quicksilver in nature as we get older and our priorities, responsibilities, and motivations change.

Unhappy at Work: Not Just Communicators

The question, perhaps, begs another. PR Dream Team member Seán Stickle repositions it slightly:

Maybe…. Why do you think so many communicators people are unhappy in their jobs?

A fair point, Seán. And it may not even be fair to label it “unhappiness.”

Unrealized? Unsupported? Underutilized?

While this isn’t based in fact or science, generally more uncertainty accompanies more opportunity.

“Starting over,” and changing careers is simply a more viable choice in an age of readily available information.

You can go back to school, learn online, join like-minded communities.

The problem? It also propagates a sense that the grass might be greener… just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Unhappy at Work: But is it the Work?

Suset Laboy Perez isn’t unhappy at work. But that doesn’t mean she’s never unhappy or dissatisfied:

I love comms, and I love what I do.

When I find myself in a rut, it’s because I am not doing things the way my soul aspires to do them.

Example: if we take on a client who does not pay us what I know we are worth, or we take on a last minute client that requires me to stay in the office for 10+ hour days, I am miserable.

I think the industry (country-wide) enables a culture of working harder and more, so I think the key is to honor yourself and your boundaries.

An entrepreneur recently shared with me that before she started her practice, she was told that she would have to set super early hours because that’s the only time her potential clients would see her.  

Her response as someone who hates mornings? “Not /my/ clients”.

Her business is thriving and she keeps the hours she wants to keep.

I am working on getting good at the “not /my/ clients” attitude.

Unhappy at Work: #becausecats

Perhaps the reason so many communicators are unhappy at work is that they aren’t doing what they’re meant to be doing. Or at least that’s what Michelle Garrett thinks:

I’m going to say that it’s because a lot of what we/they do *isn’t* communicating.

Much of what communicators do has more to do with tracking down the right people to give input, getting approvals, making endless rounds of edits, etc.

It’s more like herding cats than actually communicating.

Communicators are People Too

From Kimberly White:

In our work lives, we tend to treat people as “human-shaped objects.” People are stories to spin, deadline imposers, creators of insatiable demands.

We see them solely in terms of their usefulness to us, or as “to-do boxes” to check off.

We see people as anything but *actual people*—and this invites tension, conflict, and unhappiness.

How can we fix it?

When you shift your perspective and see people as people—with their own vulnerabilities, fears, and dreams—you’re no longer working to solve nameless, faceless problems.

Instead, you’ll see real people with unique needs and views, with opinions and experiences that are just as valuable as your own.

Your work will take on purpose, because you’re no longer pounding through never-ending tasks.

You’ll be helping someone with an aspect of his or her life instead.

This people-focused shift can prevent issues at work, too.

For example, asking questions like, “What do you need?” or “What makes your job hard for you?” identifies crucial issues that create frustration—opening up discussion and solutions that benefit everyone.

PR Should Be Fun!

Lindsey Myers loves her job and wouldn’t change it for the world, but she still has some thoughts on the question:

While it may be true that some people in communications would have chosen alternative career paths, many of us truly love what we do.

If you’re in a communications role and you don’t enjoy it, it could be that you’re working alongside people (either client-side or internally) that don’t value you, or who have unreasonable expectations of you.

I have worked very hard to build my firm in a way that allows me to work with clients I truly respect and admire and who treat my entire team with respect.

I’ve also carefully selected my team so I have a group of employees who make every day a pleasure.

I’ve always told my team that PR should be fun. This role is much easier when you’re working alongside a team of people who are very excited to be doing this work. 

Some people get into this field, and they simply aren’t cut out for it. After all, it requires managing many different personalities, so if that’s not your strongest suit, it may just be that it’s simply not a fit.

But I’m a very outgoing people person and as such, I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

There can be a lot of pressure, too, but to mitigate this I encourage regular feedback from both clients and my team so we can set realistic goals and expectations.

Many of us thrive with the challenge of a little bit of pressure, but we also work to add balance by celebrate milestones as a team and have regular get-togethers where we can learn from one another and continue to grow.

If Not This, Then What?

One conversation often (usually…hopefully) triggers another. In this case, as communicators discussed why they are unhappy at work, many brought up what they would switch to, given the chance.

From Lou Draper:

I want to be a personal trainer. And a florist. But mostly a trainer.

I’m studying this year to make that happen but who knows if I’ll ever quit comms for it or if it’ll be a side hustle.

And I’ve been working in comms for 18 years. Kinda done. But not at the same time.

If Paula Had a Million Dollars (or 10)?

While many aren’t unhappy, nor would they change what they’re doing, some blue-skyed what would happen if they didn’t have to worry about paying the bills:

From Paula Kiger:

If I won $10 million tomorrow, I’d pay off the debt first, then buy a car with air conditioning (true story).

I would travel and do service projects and write about them to try to convince OTHER people to do their own versions/preferences of service.

The Lesson? Maybe Communicators Are Weird

Ultimately, yes, many communications and marketing professionals professed that they would have done things differently, or they would choose a different career.

BUT… our big question unearthed a weirdly/fiercely committed cadre of communicators who, while admitting to frustration, malcontent, and periodic bouts of I’m-done-with-this-whole-communications-thing, are also firmly entrenched in their decision to be all they can be in our chosen profession.

In fact, if we dig into our answers, the issue seems to be less about being in communications, and more about the frustration around what it means to be in PR and marketing. The expectations, the blurred lines, the perceived value, and the constant need to defend our practice.

The answer? Selfishly, it’s our Spin Sucks Community and the PR Dream Team.

If I didn’t know there were throngs of people facing the same struggles, and experiencing like-minded doubts, I’d likely be miserable as well.

Similarly, if I didn’t know there was a community of communicators who could help each other with these issues, a place with tips, tools, and resources designed to keep up to speed with our ever-evolving industry, I’d probably want to shift gears.

Being a communicator is frustrating, but it’s also fun. For real.

Why are communicators unhappy at work? Aimee West gets the last word:

I have no idea… I am in communications and love what I do. #maybeIamjustweird LOL

Up Next: Are you GDPR Ready?

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect on May 25, 2018. That’s two weeks from this publication.

Laura Petrolino has provided us with a “Communicator’s GDPR Checklist and Resource Guide,” and everything we need to know about GDPR compliance, but knowing and doing are very different.

Since these articles have been published, we have been asked countless questions about GDPR.

Questions about compliance issues, relevance (does it apply to you and your business? Most likely!), and who or where you can go to for help implementing compliance measures.

So, as the deadline looms, the Big Question is a simple one:

Are you GDPR Ready? If so, what did you have to do? If not, what questions do you still have?

You can answer here, in our free Spin Sucks Community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

About Mike Connell


Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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