We’ve all been there; the job is working your very last nerves. There is too much work to do and too little time to do it. On top of that, you have no time to spend with your family and friends and your social life sucks. It’s not just you. Over the last couple of years, many people I know have walked away from “good” jobs in pursuit of self-care, personal peace, and mental stability, myself included. In fact, The Mayo Clinic has identified “burnout” as one of the primary causes of workers leaving organizations. The lack of work-life balance, combined with impossible expectations, isolation, lack of autonomy, and chaotic office environments has been too much to bear for some, while others have decided to stick around, hoping for change. If you are part of the latter, keep reading for three ways to keep your job while maintaining your sanity.
Ease into your day. In the fast-paced world of work, stepping into the office usually kicks off a tornado of activity where everything seems like a priority. Without proper time to prepare for your day, before you know it, stress, anxiety, and frustration can overcome you, curbing your enthusiasm and making you less efficient. Instead of creating a whirlwind of action, decide what must be done today by spending the first hour of your day reviewing emails, deadlines, and deliverables. Be realistic. Do not overextend yourself. Once you have a clear plan, get to work on the top priority items and if you have time left in your regular workday, tackle some of the tasks that are lower on your list. Interruptions and impromptu requests will come. Be prepared to say no to anything, barring an emergency that will keep you at work past quitting time. According to this Health Guide article, setting boundaries and learning to say no are two of the many ways to prioritize your mental health on the job.
Hang out with your colleagues. Anyone that knows me is well-aware of my history of apprehension about fraternizing with co-workers. Over the years, I learned that being antisocial in the workplace worked to my detriment. With so many studies done on the impact of isolation at work, it is no wonder inclusion is often paired with diversity and equity when leadership attempts to improve the employee experience. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs lists Love and Belonging as number three in the five-tier model of human needs. This sense of acceptance is so important, that it falls just behind physiological needs such as food and clothing, and safety requirements. Instead of working in your own silo, invite a co-worker to lunch or to happy hour after work. If that is a big ask for your personality, try small talk at the water cooler. Interacting with others can break up the monotony of the day and build a support system. You don’t have to become besties with the people at work, but forming meaningful and authentic relationships in the workplace is something we should all strive for.
Find new ways to do old things. A lack of control over the work you do can leave you feeling powerless and bored. The fifth item in Maslow’s Hierarchy is self-actualization. This is defined as the desire to reach one’s full potential, to grow and learn as much as possible. Discovering ways to be autonomous within the boundaries of your role can create a new appreciation for your work, provide fresh challenges to overcome, and give you a sense of pride in your accomplishments. Getting your creative juices flowing will breathe new life into an otherwise mundane task.
Trying these steps before deciding to move on could be a recipe for success in your current role. That said, there are some jobs that are just crappy. Know the difference. If the work itself is burning you out, implementing the practices can help. However, if your employer is just toxic and the culture doesn’t align with your morals and values, perhaps it’s time to move on after all.
People are often surprised when I tell them that I just obtained my bachelor’s degree in 2021. Because I appear to have progressed through my career seamlessly from the outside looking in (far from true), people tend to assume that I have an extensive formal education that paved the way. However, my non-traditional way of navigating to a six-figure career has been filled with triumphs, roadblocks, learning, experiencing, overcoming, and giving up at times.
In the past, much relevance has been placed on degrees obtained at prestigious colleges. With the information age in full swing, e-commerce on the rise, and Covid-19 forcing many out of the workplace and into remote settings, the importance of traditional education has declined, while the value of individual learning, experience, and personal development has come to the forefront. Of course, getting a college degree is a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated but the world is starting the realize that there are alternate ways of gaining the knowledge needed to excel at work.
I have had many experiences, good and bad, throughout my career. There have been so many valuable lessons and I have used those to create a list of ways to build value in your career without enrolling in a university. In this post, I am only focusing on things I have done to further my corporate career so will exclude things like apprenticeships, internships, etc. Those are obviously viable options but I am only listing avenues that I have experienced.
Many industries look for candidates with specialized skills. Over time, that pursuit has led to the creation of certifications that provide proof that the candidate has mastered the skills needed to do the job. As a Payroll and Human Resources professional, I have obtained certifications from the American Payroll Association, The Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), and The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Each organization has provided training and study tools to help with obtaining certifications. They also offer memberships that include notifications to keep you up-to-date on industry changes. Whatever your career choice, search for specialty certification in that profession and after obtaining it, keep connected so you are always current on the body of knowledge. Some other advantages of joining these professional associations are the seminars, conferences, webinars, and the availability of mentorship.
CROSS-TRAINING AND IDENTIFYING OPPORTUNITIES
Prior to establishing my expertise in Payroll and HR, I was working in customer service. One day, the Payroll Specialist and her manager had a disagreement and she quit on the spot. I was asked if I knew Payroll and I answered, “No, but I’m sure I can figure it out.” I worked late into the night and got payroll processed. What I learned from that experience is that when a chance to grow presents itself, I should always be ready. I got into Human Resources the same way; opportunity knocked and I answered. Even now, I love to write so within my role, I take advantage of any task that involves writing. Know what your interests are and as long as you are meeting or exceeding expectations in your day-to-day work, make time to learn in preparation for your next role.
BOOKS, E-BOOKS, AUDIOBOOKS, VIDEOS & PODCASTS
With so many different mediums available to find information, it is easy to come across exactly what you’re looking for. Amazon has books and e-books on any subject you can conjure up. You can also find them in places like Barnes and Noble or whoever your book retailer of choice is. If you’re like many people who do not have time to sit and read a book, listen to one. Audible is my go-to for audiobooks. I keep a subscription and listen to at least one book a month. In addition, they offer podcasts on varying subjects that you can take advantage of. For the video aspect, I absolutely love learning on YouTube. No matter the topic, I have solved so many problems by watching videos from different content creators. Whatever platform you choose, there is an infinite amount of information at your disposal. Take advantage.
Subject matter experts are found everywhere. Now that the misconception of teachers in school being the only people you can learn from has been rightfully put to rest, the ability to create valuable content around expertise has expanded to everyone with a specific talent. There are several online platforms you can invest in to further your education. LinkedIn is well known as a professional social media. There, you can showcase your resume, references, networking skills, and anything else related to your career. A lesser-known service that is offered there is LinkedIn Learning, where a simple entry into the search bar returns a plethora of courses in your area of interest. This is a paid platform included in a premium membership. Udemy was first introduced to me as a professional development platform included in benefits at a former employer. I found the courses so useful that I continued using the service after I moved on. They, too, offer either a monthly subscription or you can pay a small fee for each course. Another great continuing education service is Coursera. They are a little different than the aforementioned spaces as in addition to courses, they work directly with some universities and companies to provide certificates and degrees. They can be more costly than the others, but if your plan is to get your degree or certification without student loans or heavy debt, it could be perfect!
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH POTENTIAL MENTORS
Denise Benson passed away many years ago, but I will never forget her. Not only did she give me my first opportunity in what turned out to be a lasting career; she wholeheartedly believed I could do a great job at whatever task was put in front of me. Having someone to learn from, bounce ideas off of, and advocate for you is pivotal when you want to advance your career. Performing well and building relationships with people in power that can vouch for your work ethic while showing you the ropes is a priceless weapon in your arsenal when climbing the corporate ladder. I am not saying pursue executives and members of the leadership team in hopes of getting them to co-sign your desire to move up in the company. I am saying that you should find commonalities with people around you. Get to know them and take advantage of informal opportunities to connect and build authentic relationships. Happy hours, coffee mornings, potlucks, etc. can be fun, but they can also be beneficial for building a great support system in the workplace.
SHOOT FOR THE STARS AND LAND ON THE MOON
My grandmother used to say that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. She was right. I have listened to countless employees complain about all of the work they were doing while not being compensated appropriately. There are people around you that have no idea of how cumbersome or complex your workload is. On the flip side, there are others that notice the additional tasks you have taken on and are happy to continue to use you while saving money by not hiring for your additional job and not raising your pay to match your work. Either way, you have to speak up for yourself. Think of yourself as your own PR and an activist for your rights. Standing up to leadership can be scary as it is a moment that can and likely will shape the relationship moving forward. Seek guidance from your mentor, circle of professional friends, be reasonable and open to other perspectives. Years ago, I was recommended a book by Kerry Patterson called Crucial Conversations. I have called on what I learned so many times to help me navigate tough situations in life. Making your intentions known can benefit you in many ways. Even if your demands can’t be met right now, a roadmap on how to get there can be created.
There are situations where no matter how much you bring to the table, your value will remain unseen. Let’s say you have the experience and expertise and are able to satisfactorily perform the duties. You have sought mentorship and opportunities, have met any time thresholds required for your current position before promotion, and have let your organization know about your desire to grow and develop. They still ignore your requests. It is likely time to move on. According to this CNBC Article, switching jobs is an effective way to boost your income. The average annual increase is about 3% while switching jobs can net a 4.3% increase. Still, those numbers are modest as I have personally witnessed colleagues denied a well-deserved promotion move on and receive salary increases upwards of 40%.
A degree had been on my bucket list, so I went back to school and obtained it but in all honesty, it has not changed how employers see me. There is no substitute for on-the-job experience, discipline, continuous self-improvement, and a willingness to set learning and career goals. Be willing to do the work needed for advancement but also be willing to move on if the company you give your all to fails to see how much of a commodity you are.
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For years, some of us have been taking steps to build our careers while also taking care of our families and finding the time to pursue our passions. The journey has led to exhilarating highs and the lowest of lows. Making sure to meet and exceed expectations at work, at home, and within can lead to extreme burnout, especially when success is achieved in each area.
Burnout can leave you feeling tired, resentful, and can even paralyze your progress, causing you to fail in important areas of life. Recognizing the early signs of burnout is imperative to assessing your work/life balance and setting priorities.
Success is a double-edged sword. Most people find it difficult to practice self-care when they are riding high on success or pursuing it. Forming healthy self-care habits can help stay ahead of potential problems. Allocating time to do the things you love is one of the best things you can do to keep burnout at bay. That’s why I’ve decided to create a Protecting Your Peace in 2022 blog series. I want to remind all of us grinding and hustling for success to make ourselves the priority. Here are 10 ways to prevent burnout this year:
Be on the lookout for warning signs. Burnout affects people in different ways. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and are lacking the energy necessary to perform your work. Or perhaps you feel sad and stressed out, unable to sleep due to worry or the inability to shut your mind down. There are also physical signs to be aware of. Some that I have personally experienced are blurred vision, headache, and sensitive eyes. This came from spending hours on end in front of the computer for an extended amount of time and neglecting breaks. Whatever negative impact you are experiencing, these are clear signals that you need to stop and assess the impact the daily grind is having on you.
Take regular breaks. One thing that I have let go of this year is the need to prove my value by overworking and skipping breaks. Any time I’m feeling overwhelmed, stuck or just need to take my mind off of working briefly, I just do it. A 15-20 minute break can make all the difference between being your most productive and spinning in place. When you feel burnout creeping up, take a break and rest, go for a walk, or do something you truly enjoy. Giving yourself time to clear your mind is key for your health and well-being.
Find a consistent sleep pattern. Studies show that people who do not get enough sleep each night are more likely to burn out. If you find yourself falling asleep at your desk, unable to focus, lacking concentration, or routinely suffering from headaches, it may be time to adjust your sleep schedule. Everyone varies in how much rest they need on a daily basis, but most experts agree that 6-8 hours is the minimum amount of sleep necessary to function in a healthy way. Going to sleep and waking up around the same time everyday creates consistency in your body and reduces the stress of having to constantly adjust to changes in your sleep pattern.
Make regular exercise an essential part of your life. Regular exercise reduces stress and increases energy. With many of us juggling so many things in life, working out can seem like an inconvenient chore. However, the benefits of routinely raising your heart rate and working your muscles is immeasurable. It does not have to be strenuous exercise. Whether you are taking a brisk walk, raising your desk to stand for portions of your day, or just stretching, it all counts! Since adding a brief workout to my everyday routine, I have noticed less stress equating to less exhaustion and headaches.
Set goals and take action. In order to get to your destination, you need direction. Establish goals and take some action in pursuit of them each day. Knowing exactly what you’re working toward makes it easier to get your day started. I set daily goals that roll into larger goals that happen over time. Once I meet the day-to-day goals I have set, I give myself permission to stop working. I intend to meet those self-imposed obligations each day, but from time to time, things come up and I can’t. In those cases, I move the goal forward to the next day, forgive myself from the miss and still prioritize my rest and rejuvenation.
Don’t try to do it all. Being a one-person operation can be overwhelming. I used to believe that unless I did something, it would not be done right. By changing my mindset to vetting, trusting, then verifying, I have been able to release some of the pressure I had created for myself. No one is expected to know and be everything. It is okay to delegate to coworkers, hire an assistant, find a nanny, or pay for a cleaning service. Trusting someone else to help with your workload will free up time for taking care of yourself. It will also help you think more clearly and creatively. Never feel guilty for making free time a priority. Allowing time to just be is as important to your success as hard work and discipline are.
Identify the problem and fix it. If you have already exhibited signs of burnout, knowing what to do about it is the logical next step. You need to take some time to reflect on what is creating the feeling. Is it your work? Do you need additional training? Is your job impossible for one person to perform? Do you need to move on? Is your family life filled with drama? Are you suffering from illness? Once you know exactly what is ailing you, the necessary solutions will begin to present themselves and you can take action to heal.
Go on a vacation. Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. A change of scenery may be just what you need to restart your engine. Plan a trip by yourself or with people that you enjoy being with. Go for some fresh air, shut out any responsibilities, dance, eat, sit on the beach, and return feeling refreshed. Whether you take a simple road trip or hop on an international flight, dedicate the time to being in the moment and temporarily letting your worries vanish.
Self-care should be ongoing. Some of us wait until burnout arises to decide on practicing self-care but recharging your battery should not only happen when it’s dead. You don’t just wait until your car has a problem before you take it in to the dealership. Preventative measures are taken to keep mechanical failures away. Think of yourself as a high-end car. You need routine maintenance to stay strong and healthy, regular analysis to detect any potential issues, and the tools on hand to fix those troubles.
Establish boundaries. Over the years, I have inadvertently developed a caretaker persona the extends from my personal life into my career and entrepreneurial ventures. Part of this has been giving to others when I had nothing to give to myself and allowing people to use my time and resources without consideration of the impact on me. Making people around you aware of your boundaries and enforcing them is the biggest thing you can do to protect your peace. In the workplace, let leadership and your colleagues know that you are not working around the clock. You deserve to have set expectations surrounding work/life balance. In your personal life, stop letting your family and friends come to you repeatedly with the same issues. There’s a thin line between being of service and enabling problematic behavior.
Being successful is not about doing whatever you are asked no matter the consequences on your mental, physical and emotional health. Success is about making sure you have the time to do what is important to you and ensuring that you have a healthy and balanced life inside and outside of the workplace. Implement some of these tips into your life and see the positive changes unfold.
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I can recall the very first time I came to the devasting conclusion that a co-worker I had spent time with, built a bond with, and treated like family was not my friend. I was working in Payroll/HR at a construction company, and she was a Project Manager. We hit it off immediately, going to lunch on a daily basis, supporting each other through family issues and work-related matters. She even helped to host my baby shower. Naturally, when I began to realize I was underpaid and overworked, she was my biggest supporter… privately. I shared my conversations with my manager, my stresses and frustration regarding what I felt was a discriminatory workplace. She listened and agreed, seemingly upset that I was being treated unfairly. The workplace situation escalated when I was “laid off” while on maternity leave due to a supposed reduction in force. It turned out that the company had decided to replace me with the owner’s niece, who I had trained to fill in while I was out. They also paid her appropriately. My co-worker/friend provided me with details about the office after I left the company, noting that there was no reduction in force and the owners of the company simply wanted to employ their own. This, of course, prompted me to take legal action.
After meeting with an attorney, my former employer had their company records subpoenaed. This included all email correspondence. To my astonishment, my friend at work had been passing all of our conversations along to my manager. I scanned email after email that detailed all of my personal business I had discussed with her. She had been rewarded for her loyalty to the company with an increase and promotion immediately after I left. After finding this out, I contacted my former co-worker and she was speechless, offering no explanation for her betrayal. I didn’t need one, really. She had used me and my situation to look out for herself. She apologized, but I ceased any communication with her. The situation landed in my favor, but the damage had been done. Over the years, there have been attempts by her to reconnect and I have rejected them because there can never be trust in our “friendship” again.
When friendships formed at work go awry, it is not always this dramatic. There are, however, variables in place that can prevent the relationship from being authentic. Workplace relationships are usually formed from compatible personality traits or a shared experience, whether good or bad. Either you are in the trenches together and form a bond or you are in a toxic environment and lean on each other to make it through a tough time.
The problem with believing that you and your friend/colleague have compatible personalities is that most people do not bring their authentic selves to work so whether you actually know your co-worker is questionable. What’s important to them? Is it equality in the workplace? How about opportunities for advancement? Does money motivate them? Do they know how to form healthy, functional relationships? I cannot count how many times I thought I knew what was important to a co-worker only to be surprised by their actions. As a dedicated activist for diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace, I have connected with many people to help them through trying times. Those connections have led to friendships. But I’ve noticed that once their trials and tribulations are over, the friendship we had formed was not the same. Sure, if they are in trouble again and need support, they reach out but is that really a friendship?
Let’s talk about human psychology. In my last blog post, Black Women: Stop Going Where You Are Not Welcomed, I talked about a psychologist, Abraham Maslow, and introduced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The illustration below shows the five human needs represented in this theory, starting at the bottom of the pyramid. As you move up from the foundation, each need must be met before moving to the next. One necessity cannot be fulfilled unless those beneath it have been achieved.
Once the physiological needs (food, clothing, and shelter) have been met, the safety needs, including employment, resources, and property must be met before we even think about friendship and social interaction. I would even submit that the physiological and safety needs are interdependent as you need money and resources to obtain basic needs. Let’s face it; no matter how much you love what you do or how good you are at it, most people work to provide for themselves and their families. Employment and resources equal financial security and stability and will always be a primary concern. To further exemplify this, in an article by Employment First Florida, the top two reasons people work are listed as money and independence.
To add to Maslow’s Theory, another psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, developed the motivation-hygiene theory illustrated below. The idea is that the hygiene factors on the left must be fulfilled before the motivation factors on the right can even be considered. The motivation factors are what people need to be satisfied and happy in the workplace assuming the basic hygiene factors are met.
Although “relationships” are listed as one of the hygiene factors, once relationships are established, they can be impacted by the quest for achievement and advancement. Simplified, it’s highly likely that despite your friendship with your co-worker, if the possibility of losing a job, opportunities for achievement, recognition or advancement come into play, they may through you under the bus, drive over you like a speed bump, then throw the bus in reverse to make sure you are dead. Even more will play both sides against the middle, telling you what you want to hear while simultaneously using your situation to benefit themselves. Since you, too, need your basic needs met, it’s important to consider the why in workplace interactions. Be friendly. Be cordial. Be easy to work with, but also be reasonable. Always bear in mind that everyone is there to fulfill one of their basic needs and everything else is secondary.
With that said, I will tell you that I have met some awesome ladies in the workplace and been able to maintain authentic, supportive friendships outside of our professional connections. The landscape of those relationships has changed because we are no longer having a shared experience in our careers, but the common denominator is that we have things in common that have nothing to do with our jobs. In addition, when we did work together we were upfront, transparent, and never created an element of distrust. From a Human Resources perspective, I can say that often, friendships that start in the workplace fall apart when tested with the possibility of losing stability and resources or the introduction of an opportunity. Choose your close associates wisely and set boundaries. Remember that a listening ear is close to a running mouth.
People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do.
I don’t know who originated the quote above, but throughout the years, I have made it my own, internalizing it and applying it to every aspect of my life. I strongly believe that everything that happens in life is either a blessing or a lesson. Every success is an opportunity to celebrate and every failure is a chance to learn a valuable lesson; I consider both epic wins. This mindset has been pivotal in my ability to bounce back, reinvent myself, and create new opportunities. I have compiled a list of 8 ways to always win in life, even when it feels like you’re losing.
Change Your Perspective:
In times of challenge, it’s easy to see the glass as half empty. Early in my career, a company I was at suddenly made the announcement that they were shutting down and laying everyone off. I immediately started to panic but when I settled down at home that night, I realized that I no longer had to endure a three-hour daily commute, had run out of opportunities for advancement, and was only there for a paycheck. I enrolled in training courses and secured a higher-level position that paid more, offered growth and provided continuing education opportunities. Every time one door closes, another one opens. You just have to decide on which door to try.
It’s easy to blame other people when things go wrong. Having the ability to be introspective and identify how you contributed to a failure or an unsatisfactory outcome is important in turning that loss into a win. No one is perfect, so there should always be something that you can find to improve on or do better next time. The fact that you survived and are able to look back at the situation is a success in itself.
I used to believe that any time I lost, someone else had to have won. In my mind, there was always a supervillain behind the scenes praying for my demise and celebrating when that prayer was answered. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but you catch my drift. As I’ve grown, I’ve found that there is not always a clear winner and loser in every situation. Sometimes it’s a win-win and in others, everyone is mourning a loss. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can help to ease anger and emotional baggage, freeing you to find the lesson and blessing.
Stand Up for Yourself or Someone Else:
I’ve always been a fighter. I stand up for what I believe in and refuse to stand by idly watching as another human being is treated unfairly. But when I started my career, I toned it down; as a black woman at work, I was careful not to be labeled as “aggressive” or “angry”. I wanted to fit in and not make waves. Every time I stood down when I should have stood up, I went home and almost couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. It wasn’t long before I decided to be myself; no more going along to get along, no more code-switching or smiling in the face of disrespect, microaggressions, or disregard. Standing up for myself and others taught me to deal with my emotions and conflict effectively, what motivates others and what circumstances to avoid in the future.
I was once working as a payroll specialist but doing the work of a supervisor. When the supervisory role opened up, I figured I was going to be selected; I had proven I could do the job and do it well. My manager thought differently. She hired an external candidate and asked me to train her in her supervisory duties. I asked about why I have been passed over and was told that it was because I didn’t have a payroll certification. That day, I signed up to take the certification exam and began studying. After passing a few months later I moved to a supervisor role elsewhere. I decided that no one would ever be able to hold the lack of credentials over my head again. Even in times where you know you’re being treated unfairly, there are things that you can do to eliminate that roadblock going forward.
Find Clarity & Direction:
One of the first places that I worked for several years was at a cell phone provider. For years, I received accolades as a top customer service rep. I had built my phone persona and no matter how many customers cursed me out, yelled at me, and disrespected me, I stayed in character and did everything by the book. The company loved me. After a few years, employees were notified that the organization was relocating and I got offered a chance to move with them. I recalled the dread I felt pulling into work every day and the willpower and self-control it took to listen to people verbally assault you in one call after the next. I declined and dedicated my efforts to my payroll and human resources career. Sometimes we are well aware that we are not happy with the status quo, but need a push to move in the right direction.
Take a Break:
Nothing is more important than your mental health. In a culture where accomplishments, titles, and wealth rule, finding the time for self-care is hard. As many know, I left a “good job” six months ago. The pay was good, but not what it should have been for the work I was doing. The company was international so I was online early in the morning and late at night to meet with co-workers in various time zones. I had no job lined up and didn’t care. I needed a break. Since then, I have pampered myself, grown closer with my family, rediscovered my love of writing, and released years of stress. You can’t win in life without your health and mental wellness. Your first priority is to take care of yourself. Don’t sell out your God-given talents to make a buck or fill the emotional tanks of others while yours is running on empty. Plan, prepare and take a break when you need to.
Let it Go:
I used to hate when people told me that forgiveness is for me and not for the person being forgiven. I always felt as if I were being too passive by moving on from the transgression. However, the person that had wronged me would be past the situation and living their best life as if it never happened. I finally recognized that I was staying in a negative place and inflicting further suffering on myself. I began to practice the art of letting go. When I encounter something that I consider to be a bad experience, I ask myself two questions: Can I change it? If not, is there a lesson to be learned? If I can’t change it, I take the lesson and move on. If there is a lesson to be learned, I write it down, meditate on it to avoid a recurrence, and move on. If I can find no lesson in it, I stop the proverbial bleeding and move on. Either way, I move on. Erykah Badu famously said, “Bag lady, you gone hurt your back… dragging all them bags like that…” in one of my favorite songs, Bag Lady. The message was about moving on and not carrying excess baggage with you. So change things if you can, take in the lesson and lighten your load.
Whether the loss of a loved one has taught you to love your family while they are still here, you are starting out new with a fresh outlook on life, or you have simply cut your losses and kept it moving, every situation in life has been a stepping stone to get you to where you are today: alive and of sound mind with a world full of endless possibility at your fingertips.
Last night I dreamed that my teeth were falling out. The dream was so vivid that when I woke up, I ran to the bathroom fully expecting to see nothing but gums when I opened my mouth. This prompted me to search do a quick Google search for the interpretation of this dream. I came across a post by Delta Dental. To summarize, this dream is associated with starting anew and insecurities surrounding embarking on an unfamiliar path. The dream analysis seemed to represent exactly where I am in life.
I always felt smart. I read early, got good grades, and when I finally took my first job in Payroll and Human Resources, I expected to work hard and climb the ranks to the top of my field where I could really make an impact. I did my part; I worked hard, learned something new when I identified an area where I was lacking, and always worked well above my title and pay to prove I had what it took to be promoted. In my naivety, I believed that the playing field was even and that everyone that worked hard would be rewarded. The truth hit me like a ton of bricks.
I first became aware that I was held to a different standard than my colleagues in my early twenties. I was working a hybrid role as a Human Resources and Payroll Specialist. I caught on quickly and was “rewarded” with more work but my title and pay remained the same. The company grew and decided they needed a manager in my department. Although doing the exact work for over a year and receiving accolades, I applied for the role. I was overlooked and someone with less experience was hired into the role. After it was decided that they could not keep up with the workload, the organization came back to ask if I was interested. I wasn’t so I moved on.
That was not a unique situation. My career progression has come at a staggering cost. Many times, the only way I could be promoted was to apply for a new job. I always hoped that new leadership would see my value and give me the opportunities I worked so hard for. I cannot think of a time where that was the case. My leveling up has always been a hard-fought battle, leaving a bad taste in both mine and my employer’s mouths. They believed I should just be grateful to work for them while I believed I should not have to work two times as hard as my peers in order to be valued.
The beginning of the end of my Payroll and Human resources career came this year. I came into an organization because I believed the CEO was a true ally. This time would be different; he understood the plight of black women in the workplace and was doing something about the inequality, or so I thought. After a year and a half of working at a Director level while being paid and titled as a Manager, I left the company. Right after leaving, I heard the CEO discussing issues such as mine on a podcast and decided to reach out on LinkedIn. I believed that by sharing my experience, I could help to make the company a better place for those that came after me. I thought he cared and would appreciate my insight. Instead of simply thanking me for my feedback, I was given first-hand experience with performative allyship. Although proclaiming his support publicly, this leader became defensive, even going as far as to blame me for the experience (more on this in my upcoming book, The Inclusion Illusion). The experience was so shocking and traumatic that I spoke with the company’s legal team but opted to end discussions as I wanted to maintain my right to speak out about what happened to me. Far too often, people that look like me are offered severance pay in exchange for their silence allowing these problematic employers to continue inflicting damage on others while sucking the lifeblood out of them.
Since leaving that organization early this year, I have been involved in a plethora of job interview loops. I have sat in many Zoom interviews, explaining to people that did not look like me or relate to me why I am a good fit for their organizations. There have been times that I made it to the end, but another candidate was selected. In those situations, I have asked for feedback and been told repeatedly how great I was and that the only issue was location although each role I applied for was remote. Other times, I have discovered red flags about companies that have led me to drop out of the process. The thought of getting into another role where I am overworked and overlooked creates extreme anxiety in me and I am no longer sacrificing my mental health for financial gain.
Then yesterday it hit me. On a plane ride home from my grandmother-in-law’s funeral, I had the epiphany life is too short to be unhappy. I already knew that, but told myself that I had put so much into my career and could not just throw it away. It was familiar and stable but it was not my dream. I realized that although I had left one workplace, I was still constantly interviewing for roles that would put me right back into the position that I had so desperately wanted out of. I accepted that Corporate America was not set up for black women and that it would be a long time, if ever before we found ourselves on equal footing. With that, I went home and canceled all of my upcoming interviews. I immediately felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and a true sense of freedom.
The decision to walk away from something I have dedicated my whole life to was not an easy one. It takes financial preparation, a clear sense of direction and self-worth, confidence, support from family and friends, and most importantly a sense of exhaustion with the status quo. My dream about losing my teeth represented all of those things and came right after I made the life-changing decision to let something that I have worked so hard for die in order to give life to my true calling. I am not alone in this. Black women are leaving Corporate America in droves. We are tired of working twice as hard, proving ourselves repeatedly, and going unrecognized. We are exhausted with ignoring microaggressions, silencing ourselves to keep the peace, and being overlooked. We are opening our eyes to the possibility of successfully launching our own ventures when we stop asking for a seat at the table and decide to take a seat at our own.
Black women are starting businesses at breakneck speed. With organizations refusing to do something tangible about the lack of equality in the workplace, the economic landscape will change drastically over the next decade and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We will do what we do best; survive, overcome and thrive. But the absence of black women in the workplace will have a negative impact on companies for many years to come.
Ever since the pandemic started last year, people have been quitting their jobs left and right. The looming threat on the health and viability of the general public has caused so many to realize that sometimes a job is just not worth it. Others already had a growing disdain for the co-workers, bosses, the job itself or the work environment in general. That was not the case for me.
I started a new role three months prior to Covid-19. I came in excited about the role and ready to tackle the job head on. Immediately, I realized I was being titled (and paid) as a Manager, but the duties aligned with those of a Director. I decided to give the job my all anyway, believing that once I proved my value, the company would automatically recognize that I am underpaid and fix the problem.
Fast forward over a hear and a half, after several acquisitions, building a global team, working virtually around the clock, and numerous conversations with my manager I found out that instead of fixing the issue, the company had opted to give me the highest possible increase based on performance (4%) instead of doing the right thing. I decided I could not and would not allow myself to be undervalued. I left the organization and five months later, the position (now properly titled and paid) remains open.
There are employees out there that love their jobs, manager and co-workers, respect the company they work for and just want to do a good job while also being treated fairly. Employers that miss this basic mark do a disservice to themselves, exiting employees and those left behind to fill the gaps. Here are five simple things an employer can do to retain good talent:
Work/Life Balance – Be well aware of the staffing required to allow employees to perform the duties of the job while still participating in their own personal lives. Hire enough people and be clear about the expectations for each role.
Listen to Your Workers – Everyone has a perspective and an opinion. Even if you disagree with an employee’s point of view, listen and attempt to find common ground. Being dismissive is off-putting and does not inspire loyalty. Sometimes no action is even necessary; just active listening and sincere empathy.
Don’t Talk About it. Be About it – With the spotlight on discrimination, mistreatment and police brutality, we have seen many CEOs (some known to be problematic) exhibiting Performative Allyship. They talk a good game, but do not back it up with tangible action or continue to act contrary to their public persona behind the scenes. A true ally needs to do the work to listen, understand and act when necessary; not just when the cameras are on.
Be Fair & Equitable – Whether employees are sounding the alarm or not, it is up to your business to audit regularly and make changes when necessary. Not only should your salaries and benefits be competitive in the market, they should be comparable across your organization. Review salary bands, employee performance and demographics regularly to ensure everyone is treated fairly.
Pay for the Job – When the duties for a job are enhanced, so should the pay and title. When employees take time away from their regular jobs to do diversity, inclusion and equity work for your organization, compensate them for the contribution; this is an asset to your business. That is it and that is all.
Having experienced the workplace and the phenomenon of being overworked and undervalued more often than not, I can all but guarantee that ensuring these five tips are followed will make any impending “Great Resignation” from the workplace a small hurdle instead of a Global challenge for Human Resources and Talent Acquisition teams.
A true leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.