Your Top Career Worries Solved!

Bad boss? Stress? No motivation? Cosmo has the answers to all your work woes

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We spend a third of our lives in office, but how many of us skip happily into work on a Monday morning? Whether you're weighed down with stress, or dealing with a control-freak boss, stop worrying. So Cosmo decided to ID what stands in the way of your happily-ever-after status in office, and then got the best in the business to give advice on how you can feel 100 percent on top of the world at work. Stress coach Liz Tucker, author of When You Want To Say Yes, But Your Body Says No, and Ananth Iyer, Mumbai-based career consultant and director, Shilputsi Consultants, took a hard look at the most common dilemmas that stop us from being blissed-out at work. 

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Problem1:

You work hard, but your boss seldom praises you, and just keeps piling more work on to you. How can you talk to her honestly about your problems without it backfiring?

"I have been with this bank for over five years, and my previous boss and I had a great working rapport, but the new manager and I are having problems visà- vis my workload," says Sujata Rai, 29, banker. "I feel that he doesn't realise how much I give to my job. I'm planning to have a serious talk with him." This is quite a common concern with professionals today, says Iyer. However, it is important to first recognise whether your emotions are warranted, or if you're just feeling a slight sense of persecution because you had a comfort factor with your previous head honcho. It requires introspection and an honest understanding of your needs. It is not necessary that your superiors will fulfil your every need in the way you would like them to. Their style of recognition may also be quite different from what you are used to.

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However, if the feeling persists and/or continuously bothers you, it may be a good idea to bring it out in the open. This discussion should happen through a structured, formal process—at appraisal time or through a polite letter. You could even meet up for a casual chat outside the office, over lunch. It's better to convey your thoughts as your feelings, needs and views, rather than as a direct attack on your boss' leadership capabilities. Most people tend to take criticism very personally, so you should be extremely careful while taking up the issue.

Problem2:

A group of people on your team are good friends and they often socialise outside work. Listening to them makes you feel left out. What can you do to join in?

Varsha Jagtiani, 25, faced this dilemma: "I joined a publishing house in July, and three weeks later, my colleagues were planning to go on a beach picnic. They'd talk about it all the time in front of me, but they didn't invite me. I felt very left out. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, but I think they should've at least had the courtesy to offer."

"Are you sure you want to be part of their clique?" asks Tucker. "It might just be that you feel insecure because they are having a laugh at work, but you know you have nothing in common with them. Listen to what they talk about, and decide if you really do want to socialise with them at work, and, potentially, after hours. If the answer is no, remember you can't be friends with everyone. Then, enjoy the fact that you can get your work done without being distracted, and arrange to meet pals who work nearby at lunchtime."

But if the answer is yes, here's what you can do to move things up: organise a night out—karaoke or dancing perhaps—then invite them along. By making the evening your own, you won't feel as if you are gatecrashing 'their' night, and they'll think to include you the next time around. Varsha came up with her own master plan. "I wanted to be part of the group, and even though I wasn't invited, I stepped in and offered to help them rent a mini van for the trip. They saw me for the nice person that I was, rather than someone spiteful who would try and bust their plans for not inviting them. I offered help, and that melted the ice. They asked me to join them, but I declined saying I had plans. After that, all invitations were 'open' to me."

Tucker also says, "Open the conversation with something such as, 'I really like your outfit, where's it from?' By complimenting them and asking for their advice, you're boosting their confidence and giving them a common bond for the future."

Problem3:

Your office has a work-late culture. Everyone does at least one hour's overtime a day. You feel like you should too, even when you don't need to. How can you break away from this?

Shraddha Hingorani, 26, was a regular latenighter in the advertising agency where she works. "It wasn't so much about having some job to do, as it was about just hanging around because everyone else was. I did it for the first two months after I joined, then I realised that instead of helping me, it was making things worse. I was losing focus and feeling uninspired. I wouldn't perform during office hours, thinking, 'I will be working late anyway, so I'll wrap up my work later'. But by the end of the day, I'd be mentally dead. So, I suddenly had a lot of backlog. I got a bad threemonth appraisal, and decided that working late was not for me. I began leaving office on time. I think eight hours are enough to finish your task. Now I don't stay back, and am performing much better."

The problem is, it's often assumed that the more hours you put in, the more productive you are. But that's not true. "First, you can only concentrate for 20 minutes before your mind wanders. And, second, studies show that a job always takes as long as you give it. If you have two hours to complete a task, you'll be focussed and blitz it, but you'll allow it to drag given more time," says Tucker.

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There's no reason to feel guilty for going home on time as long as you're achieving your goals. Have a daily run-through with your boss about what needs to be done— so they know you're efficient and won't have a problem with you. If you still feel nervous about leaving on time, one trick is to go home five minutes earlier every night of the week. The next week, take another five minutes off your day. Build up slowly until you're leaving on time, and your colleagues will begin to copy you— it's human nature. Once a person has left, it's a subconscious sign that they can, too.

Problem4:

You are in your mid-20s and haven't been enjoying work for a while. You've decided you'll be happier if you totally change career direction. Are you too old?

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This was a dilemma 24-year-old Deepa Khanna found herself in. "I began working as an assistant in a travel agency at 21, and I understand every aspect of my job now— ticketing, passport enquiries, bookings, and package tours. My job is no longer a challenge and I am not sure this is what I want to do forever. I am not trained for anything else. Besides, my salary is really good. So, I do wonder if it's worth taking the risk of changing tracks now?"

Iyer suggests caution. "First, you may like to get to the core of your problem. Is this feeling of stagnation out of boredom, a lack of growth, or any other reason? Are you only looking for an easy escape, or are genuinely interested in changing course?"

If you are sure that you definitely want to do something else, then start figuring out what 'else' is. "You're not too old at 24, to add capabilities or learn new skills. In fact, the mid-20s is a perfect time because your interest in learning is more focussed, and your perspective more mature," adds Iyer. Start researching your area of interest. Consult the Net, meet career counsellors, consultants, professional/ personal mentors, or specialists in your chosen field on the best way to educate yourself to enhance your prospects. And be careful that you don't get into something that doesn't engage you for very long again!

Problem5:

You love your job, but you never seem to be able to forget about it when you get home. How can you stop work controlling your life?

Switching off is very important, says Tucker. "If you don't learn to switch off, you will completely burn out," she adds. "My office in New York starts working when I'm back home, and so I'd be on the phone constantly, even during my nonworking hours," says Praneeta Dhamankar, 29, who works as a communications manager at the Indian branch of an international PR company. "I'd get queries at home on my cellphone all evening. My man and even my friends constantly complained that I was at work 24-7, whether I was in office or not. I had even started declining invitations in case of the eventuality that I may be needed urgently next to my computer. It was over a big fight with my guy, that I finally admitted that I had let work take over my life. I decided to be on call only if it was an urgent matter. Otherwise, I preferred e-mail. Once every night, I check my mail to see if anything needs immediate attention, and I tackle everything else the next day. It has made a huge difference. Life is more fun now."

Tucker suggests these strategies for those who don't know how to switch off. "Keep a note pad in your bag—this is your perspective book. Then, on your journey home, write down any tasks you need to do for the next day. Look over what you've written, and you'll be able to get a perspective on your workload, and hopefully, stop panicking. Then, close the book and forget about it till the next morning. Also, if you're in the habit of spending all evening discussing work with your flat mate or boyfriend, you have to stop it." Set yourself a 30-minute time limit—talk about work for half an hour, then don't mention it for the rest of the evening. If you're not talking shop, it will naturally drift to the back of your mind."

Problem6:

Your workplace is really friendly. It's great, but your social and your work life have almost merged into one, so you find it hard to switch off. How can you step back without really offending them?

Sandhya Bakshi, 28, who works at the front office of a three-star hotel says, "I've been working here for the last three years, and I have made lots of friends here. My colleagues are a really cool bunch of people and we hang out a lot. Sometimes, even without a plan. When a shift ends, we just end up going to a bar near work. While I love the company of my co-workers, we end up discussing work, or brainstorming about a problem, or even bitching about the boss. And our outings have become too boring and predictable."

"It's normal to feel this way," says Tucker. "If you're always with the same people, things get a bit stale. One golden rule is to make sure you don't spend all your time together talking about the office—so make sure you steer the conversation away from work, as much as possible." Bakshi also tried to find her own solution, "I talked to my colleagues and realised we all felt the same way, so we planned that on every other outing, we'd all invite a friend each. This way, we'd meet more people, and if we'd talk about other things besides office. And it worked."

If that doesn't go down well with your co-workers, try Tucker's tricks: "Get out of the rut by going out with some different friends next Friday. Politely tell colleagues you have a friend coming to visit or someone's birthday drinks to attend— they won't be offended if you say it like that. In the long term, stop these evenings from happening so often by making them enthusiastic about less regular, more interesting nights out."

What do you think?