A career funk is difficult to spot from the outside, but when you’re in one, you know it. That grey cloud settles over your work day, blocking motivation, focus and inspiration. When your friends ask “How’s work”, you shrug and change the subject. You start to wonder if work always feels this drab or if there’s something wrong with you.
You’re not alone. A meagre 9% of UK workers report feeling enthused by their work and workplace in 2022, falling below the European average of 14%, according to a Gallup survey.
Award-winning Career Coach, Brooke Taylor, is a global speaker and transformational career coach supporting conscious female leaders and the globe’s leading tech and financial organisations. She is the coach of some of the top female leaders at Goldman Sachs, Coinbase, Google, Salesforce, and McKinsey across the globe.
We spoke to Brooke about how to break a career funk, a feeling we all know too well:
A career funk is caused by both internal and external factors. Internal factors include hiding in your comfort zone, burnout, or people-pleasing. External factors include a catalytic event (having children, death of a family member) that changes your priorities and preferences, an unwanted change in responsibilities, or a lack of vision in leadership.
This is what I know for sure: a career funk is a phase and does not have to be a career crisis. As an Executive Coach, I help female leaders at companies like Google, Uber, and McKinsey to break through their career crises and create deeper fulfilment and satisfaction.
Here is what I recommend to break through this career funk fast to find greater motivation, joy, and satisfaction in your work.
Identify your Achiever Archetype that’s holding you back:
We’re fast to blame the work itself for the funk: the role, responsibilities, or commute. In fact, more often than not, a career funk is due to how we are working, not what we are working on.
My clients who are in a career funk typically fit one of 5 Achiever Archetypes: the Grinder, the Hider, the Work-hard-play-hard, the Pleaser and the Lost-a-lot.
Each of these archetypes is a constellation of common behaviours that you think are helping you achieve, but are actually causing the funk.
Here’s a description of each one and a recommendation of how to change how you work to turn your funk around.
1. The Grinder: this is the person who wants to have more, do more, be more. They hustle and grind towards outcomes that often don’t feel as fulfilling as they had imagined. This person falls into a funk because they are often on the verge of burnout, and too exhausted to do the things that light them up. Grinders should set rigorous priorities and realistic goals to focus on achieving sustainably. This isn’t about tampering with your ambition but giving you more energy and greater fulfilment to do the work you love.
2. The Hider: This person succeeds, but only so much. They kill it at what they do, but when you scratch the surface, they cling to their comfort zone and fear leaving it. Hider’s career funks occur because the boredom of staying in the same plays starts to eclipse the esteem that comes with being the ‘expert’. Hiders can break their career funk by taking small steps outside of their comfort zone, slowly starting to raise their hand for more challenging work or exploring other options to get unstuck.
3. The Work-hard-play-hard: This archetype wants all the peak experiences. They want to kill it at work, blow off steam on the weekends, travel the world, and live without regret. They distract and numb themselves with business, booze and bags, ignoring the deeper dissatisfaction with their work. The WHPH can break their career funk by slowing down and examining their avoidant behaviour. Scheduling time with a therapist and coach to reflect on the deeper issues can break the funk before further damage is done.
4. The Pleaser: This person’s career funk is due to relationship anxiety. They tend to put others’ needs first to ensure they stay in good standing with their boss, team or clients. As a result, they’re anxious about how others perceive them and burnt out from caretaking. Pleasers can break the funk by examining their codependent tendencies in relationships and setting clear boundaries.
5. The Lost-a-lot: Do you find yourself in an existential crisis maybe too often? This person is constantly moving onto the next job, promotion or project that they hope will cure their funk. The lack of direction is what causes the funk, not the work. This person can break their funk by taking the first step above and checking their expectations about what they hope work will give them and start bringing it themselves.
Tap into Meaning, Mastery, and Autonomy
Career funks are a double bind because the motivation required to make a change is what’s lacking. This can be overcome by tapping into your sense of meaning, mastery and autonomy. These are sources of intrinsic motivation, which is the motivation that comes from one’s own internal rewards system. It outperforms extrinsic motivation leading to greater engagement, satisfaction, and performance over time.
Mastery is a sense of progress or accomplishment. It’s highly motivating to take on a new challenge and see improvement, or to start from zero and hit a target. Keep track of your progress and celebrate it. Set realistic goals. Take on new challenges. These are great ways to reinvigorate your work.
Why do you show up to work every day? What kind of impact do you want your work to have? It’s highly motivating to identify the greater purpose or meaning behind why you work. You don’t have to be a teacher, nurse or in a helping profession to have meaning. Maybe you show up to work to provide for your family, or your love seeing client impact. Identify your source of meaning and lean into it.
Autonomy is the freedom to put your creative stamp on your work. Having the leeway to run a project and develop a plan, or to apply your own spin on something is highly motivating. Work with your manager or partner to identify something you can own and create, and watch the funk dissipate.
It might be time to change jobs.
If the above tips don’t break you out of the funk, it could be that this job is the wrong fit and it might be time to move on. A fulfilling job sits at the intersection of your passions, non-negotiables, skills, and market demand. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you go on LinkedIn to search for a job:
– “What are my non-negotiables in a job?
– What do I need in order to thrive?
– What skills do people come to me for?
– What do I love most about my work?”
If you find yourself in a career funk and are looking to work with a skilled coach, Brooke Taylor offers 1:1 coaching, and her new group programme “The Finally Fulfilled” is a 12-week coaching experience for conscious corporate women to gain a deeper sense of fulfilment and inner success.