5 ways to deal with problems at work, according to a career and leadership coach

Seeking support, scheduling a meeting, and other expert tips for fixing workplace problems.

Whether he’s asking you to file those TPS reports or just moving your desk for the fourth time this year, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole, left, with Ron Livingston as Peter), Initech’s boss in “Office Space,’’ will do so in his annoying condescending tone. Hey, at least he’ll let you wear a Hawaiian shirt and jeans on Hawaiian shirt day.
A scene from the 1999 movie "Office Space." –Van Redin/20th Century Fox

Are you unhappy at work?

Perhaps you’re dealing with a toxic work environment, an oppressive boss, or you don’t feel you are being given the opportunity to grow to your full potential. No matter the cause of the problem, there are a few things you can do to turn around your situation.

“[Think] ‘OK, there are some challenges now, it’s just preparing me for the next chapter of my career,'” said Alex Poeter, a Boston-area career and leadership coach.

Poeter recommended the following steps for improving your workplace situation — and your happiness.

1. Seek support.

Share your feelings of frustration at work with a family member, friend, mentor, or coach, Poeter said.

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“It’s important to feel that there’s someone who understands you, who can share your frustrations, and someone who can help you to navigate some of the challenges,” he said.

Go over your strengths, skills, and vision for what you want professionally, Poeter said. You’ll feel less alone, and it will keep you accountable as you work toward a solution.

“Don’t do this alone,” he said. “I think that’s really important. When we’re stuck in a limiting and toxic work environment, there’s a lot of emotionally draining experiences, and it’s important to get some emotional support.”

2. Schedule a meeting.

Talk to a manager or someone in human resources about your concerns, Poeter said.

“Be really clear,” Poeter said. “What are your frustrations? Where do you feel stuck? Why do you feel stuck? Also, be clear about what you bring to the table, what your skills are, what you’ve done, your accomplishments, what you’ve helped the company achieve. Say, ‘I want to create a better experience, but I feel limited. Are there opportunities for professional development? I want to give it my best.'”

3. Look for immediate ways to improve your environment.

Whether or not you plan to stay with your current company, you should work to improve your present environment, Poeter said.

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You can do this by steering clear of gossip and speaking with co-workers in a positive way — no matter how you may feel, he said.

Also, it’s important to make intentional changes to your workspace, he said.

“Everything that’s in our environment is impacting us,” Poeter said.

So, by bringing in “something that will make you laugh or feel loved,” such as photos of family, friends, or special places, you may feel more empowered during a challenging time.

4. Show up as your best self.

Even if you feel discouraged, you should always put your best self forward, Poeter said.

“I know this can be challenging,” Poeter said. “But focus on what you have control over and concentrate on your tasks at work.”

Show a full commitment to your role, even if you are considering leaving the company, he said.

“It’s important not to tell yourself, ‘I’m going to wait until I find a new job and then really bring it,” he said. “Do your best, [and think], ‘While I’m still here, what can I leave behind? What can be my legacy?'”

You just might find yourself wanting to stay, he said.

“Creating value continuously, regardless of what job situation you are in, is key,” he said. “You’ll be noticed for the value you are creating, and other opportunities may just show up.”

5. Remind yourself of your purpose.

Your job can be about more than making money, Poeter said.

“We’re meant to use our unique skills and talents to contribute, to have an impact, and to use those skills to support and help those who can benefit,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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If you can tap into a deeper meaning through your work, you will feel more powerful, he said.