Living & Working in Great Places
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The end of a relationship is generally easy to recognize. You begin to wonder who the other head on the pillow belongs to every morning.
A relationship break-up on the private front is relatively easy to pick. Either you move out, or your partner moves out. And the sex finishes months and months and months before, but who's counting, except to use it as a debating point.
But what happens when your relationship with your job breaks down? How do you know when it's time to persist because of temporary communication breakdown, or say, "Here's your hat" to an inanimate thing?
There are certain signs of morbidity in your relationship with your job which can be easily recognized. And there are other, more deep-seated and hidden, elements involved.
Here are some indicators which should never be ignored.
Going to work late
If you wake up in the morning and just cannot face getting into the shower, getting dressed and going to work, things are not good. Forcing yourself from between the sheets works for a while, but, in the end, you lie there... and lie there.
When you are in the first throes of love with your job, everything is possible. The world looks brighter, the birds sing more cheerfully, you can't wait to get to the desk.
The dullest tasks have meaning (just like washing the ring off the collars at home) and nothing is too much trouble.
But when you can't bear going to work, you could be in the first stages of career breakdown.
Not going to work at all
Now, this is a sure sign. You would rather spend the morning with the paper than the paper work.
The gloss is starting to wear off this relationship well and truly. Or maybe you are clinically depressed. See a doctor. If it doesn't get any better, you have to recognize the problem with your job as serious.
You spend your life waiting for your holidays
Once, during severe job-relationship breakdown, I went overseas three times in 12 months - for fun.
It was hard on the bank account, but I began to see my life metaphorically as washing on the line, drooping towards the ground except where it was pinned on the line by a peg of holidays in Tahiti or Paris or New York.
This is a severe phase. It is also damaging to your financial health, if to keep yourself in a job, you have to escape it via an international carrier.
You take extremely thick novels to work
And finish them in one day. This seems to indicate that you have lost all interest in your career. It is the employment equivalent of staying up late in the sitting room and reading until 3am, hoping your partner will have fallen asleep before you go to bed.
You knit during meetings
This has the undoubted result of making your colleagues extremely nervous. They begin to think that you have lost your marbles completely.
The only thing worse than this is playing patience at your desk long after the lunch hour has finished. It definitely shows that your level of work-awareness has slipped considerably.
You spend your day on the telephone
The time you are not on the telephone, you are waiting for it to ring and making bets with yourself about who it might be before you lift the receiver.
You can't wait to go home at night, and shave minutes off each work day
Eventually, you find yourself getting ready to leave earlier and earlier, and watching the clock until you can make a respectable bolt for the door.
Everyone at work seems to be speaking a different language
All these people are now deeply involved in projects of which you are only faintly aware.
You are now out of touch completely with your peers and start to wonder what on earth is going on and whether anyone has noticed that you are not quite with it.
The answer is yes. They never miss this phase. They are probably hoping that you will come to your senses and regain consciousness before the section manager works out that you are in the last stages of work-relationship breakdown.
You are beginning to find the idea of raising chickens extremely attractive
This is the work equivalent of wanting to meet a nice, kind, considerate, middle-aged man in a suit - at least he might understand you - in your private life.
You start to scan the Saturday papers for potential jobs
This is like reading the personal columns when you are already in a relationship - you are not quite ready to move, but you're not completely against the idea.
You ask people what sort of salaries they are on
This is the equivalent of asking a divorced person what sort of settlement they got - if you were really entrenched in your work relationship, you wouldn't care. It's only when you are thinking of a work divorce that you care about the sums.
You wonder how long it would take you to clear out your office
Would you be able to get all your things home in one go? Once, it took me two black garbage bags full of personal effects to escape from a job. Now, I travel lighter.
In the end of a personal relationship, you mentally start to divide the property, and sometimes even secretly plan the arrival of the pantechnicon, leaving him only a knife, a fork, a spoon, a plate, a cup - and his clothes on top of an old mattress. This has always been an oddly comforting thought whenever I have needed cheering up in a relationship.
You wonder if you should have new cards printed
How long will it take you to hand out 250 of them? (The answer to this is, of course, relative. If you deal with a lot of Japanese companies it will probably take you three weeks. Otherwise, it's likely to take you a year.)
Do you order more or make do with the out-of-date one? Hard question this, and a vital one. There is almost nothing more depressing than finding old cards in the bottom of your desk drawers - except finding men's handkerchiefs in the bottom of your hanky sachet.
If you have had any of these feelings, you might well be in line for a job divorce.
It's better in the public sense to make the running on this, rather than have your job (in the person of your superior) come to you and ask for a formal separation.
What you should try to remember is to divide your ego from your job to make a rational decision when the time is right and get the most out of any change in a constructive way.
This is not the end of a marriage, no matter how chilling the parallels might be.
There is no other party whose feelings must be considered. Your job is not a living, breathing thing which can be hurt, upset or become depressed.
If you think you are indispensable in your job, the advice given to me early in my career by a crusty old practitioner might be useful: "To see if you truly are indispensable, put your head in a bucket. If, when you take your head out of the bucket, the hole where it was remains, consider yourself so."
Just as you are not indispensable to the job, the job is not indispensable to you. You will survive without it. If you have ever had a traumatic job bust-up, which left you feeling vulnerable as well as reduced in stature, and then recovered you will know you can recover from the most traumatic job divorce. Trust me on this: there is life after being resigned.
However, the aim of any civilised divorce is to maintain as much dignity as possible to ensure a peaceful and constructive transition to another, happier, more successful relationship.
To this end, never burn your bridges. Never, give your boss a free character reading - you never know where she will turn up next. Never decamp with the confidential files. Word will get out.
Never take your work with you. Leave it as neat and tidy as possible for the next person coming in, since, by and large, the fall-out you had with your job will not be her fault.
Always write a graceful resignation letter and see if you are denied a reference in the same tone. Do not feel obliged to point out all the faults of the organisation in your letter, or in your exit interview.
Keep cool. Chances are, that at the end of your life, you won't recall the less than-happy end of your marriage to Widget Inc, but will remember only the happy times.
See. By and large, it is just like the aftermath of a marriage.