Why it’s important to have a healthy work break-up.
Updated: Jan 27, 2022
Marcus Buckingham said that “People leave managers, not companies”, but when a professional break-up happens, we can be so grateful to be out of a toxic work relationship and excited to have a new opportunity that we forget to “get over” the break-up. Sweeping that part of our work relationship history under the carpet or locking it in a cupboard and walking away off into the sunshine of a new role is far more appealing then actually dealing with the break-up.
When a romantic break-up happens, we are much more likely to share the experience and seek support from friends, family or professional counselling. We will chat about the text messages exchanged, share feelings over a drink and sometimes, months later, reflect on where it went wrong and how things might have been handled better. Friends are also likely to offer longer term supporting when a romantic relationship ends; “How are you feeling now? “Have you heard from them?” “Let’s meet up and chat about it”.
We spend huge amounts of time with our work colleagues and managers and there is an enormous focus on the importance of building good relationships with them. Just consider the number of books, journals, TedTalks and webinars on relationship building, let alone the amount of time we spend crafting emails to have the right tone or trying to understand the other person’s perspective. So, when it goes sour, it is important that we mourn these relationships the same way we would a romance. We’ve had high hopes for this role and relationship, we’ve put a lot of work into it, so it is sad when it doesn’t work out.
Not dealing with a professional break-up can have a long-lasting, damaging effect on one’s confidence and self-belief and inability to reach or even recognise one's full potential. So it is vital to deal with the break-up and talk it through. No longer is career trauma or “work PTSD” as it is sometimes referred to, associated only with the armed forces, police or firefighters – it is now being more wildly recognised as something that can occur in any industry.
My belief in the importance of having a good break-up came to light when I realised, after some very deep reflections, how much confidence I had lost and the limiting beliefs I held about myself because of my experience of toxic work environments and unhealthy work relationships from several years ago. After the professional break-ups happened, I packed all the thoughts and feelings away in a box in the back of my mental attic. I thought that I had moved on and it was in the past, but I was not aware of how much this break-up was still holding me back. I, quite painfully, had to take it out and unpack all the conversations that happened and the feelings that I blocked out. I also needed to reflect on my own contributions to these relationships and what advice I would give my younger self. It took this reflection and several really positive experiences with new managers and colleagues (you know who you are!) for me to really get my mojo back and regain my confidence. Now, rather than being an experience that holds me back, it is something that has made me stronger.
I would not encourage anyone to stay in a toxic relationship, professional or personal; life is far too valuable to spend it being treated poorly. I can’t stress enough how important I feel it is to grieve professional break-ups and seek support, so that you do “get over it” and can use the experience as fuel to become a stronger individual.
As the mighty Taylor Swift said in her 2021 Brit Award Global Icon acceptance speech“…There might be times when you put your heart and soul into something, and you are met with cynicism or skepticism, but you can’t let that crush you. You have to let it fuel you.” Amen Taylor!
With Thanks to my dear friend who got to read the first draft of this blog and for so honestly sharing her own experiences with me and also to Organisational Psychologist Christian Ferragamo for taking the time to discuss the concept of workplace trauma and giving me the motivation to get this blog finished.
If you would like to read more about workplace trauma I found these articles very interesting.
BBC - Why long-term workplace trauma is a real phenomenon
Forbes - Trauma At The Workplace, What To Do About It