The Game Feels Rigged

Why Good Jobs Go Bad (Part 4)

Unlock the secrets to thriving in a challenging work environment and turn your daily grind into a fulfilling career journey.
Harvey Ramer
Harvey Ramer
5 min read (1173 words) Subscribe Now!

Do you ever feel bogged down by complacency and resentment at work? We often experience times when our work feels unrewarding, disorganized, or inequitable. How we respond to these challenges shapes our long-term career success and mental well-being. Stick with me to find ways to win the work game by managing expectations, staying engaged, and avoiding resentment.

I once played a few games of pool on an imbalanced table. Whenever I shot a ball within a foot of the back left pocket, it dropped with a satisfying thump. The slanted table also gave the breaker a deciding advantage. When the cue blasted through the triangle of balls, they burst apart, rocketed around the table, and clustered together in the lowest corner. At least one would usually pocket. Even a mediocre player like me could follow that up by sinking two or three more balls.

Despite its eccentricities, the game kept us entertained. Taking turns made it still feel fair, and when you grasped the table’s odd physics, skill played a big part in the outcome. In contrast, many employees today feel like they’re in a losing game and don’t understand the rules for success. They believe their employer has tilted the table against them. Without a clear path for growth, they may feel pressured and uncertain about expectations. Their lack of control leads them to disengage.

The High Cost of Ambiguity at Work

Without clear responsibilities and expectations, work can become toxic. It feels as though everyone must find their way to win. Everyone starts striving to succeed on their own terms. When this happens, we may become petty and self-focused, losing sight of what’s best for the team. Eventually, the ambiguity can erupt in overt conflict, frustration, and apathy.

Even with a well-known company mission, the day-to-day work needed to succeed can remain vague. And without a well-defined daily plan, we respond to the loudest voices around us—we live in the moment. If our daily work aligns with the mission, it’s more by accident than design. We don’t have the clarity to focus on and complete our planned tasks.

If you are an employee caught in a system with high but unclear expectations, you’ll likely start and end your day feeling exhausted. You may also be insecure about what success even means. When every day feels this way, burnout and disengagement will inevitably follow. We all need to know we are helping the company achieve its mission.

Why Employees Check Out

If you ever feel like giving less than your best effort when others spoon-feed work to you, it proves you are a normal human being. I also tend to give less than my best when others demand compliance rather than engagement. Still, we should beware of accusations of laziness because while lazy people exist, they are rare. Though I’ve rarely seen lazy employees, I have encountered many who are talented yet disillusioned.

Sometimes, indifference signals a lackadaisical attitude. But it can also stem from confusion about how our work adds value. When we comply without seeing the big picture, even if we are usually intrinsically motivated, we can lose interest. Growth-oriented leaders regularly communicate the importance of each team member’s contributions. They aim to engage each person in fulfilling work before removing half-hearted team members.

In the tech sector, a different kind of disengagement is prevalent. As professional paths progress, skill sets can become stagnant. Maintaining a vibrant professional capability involves seeking learning opportunities and gaining new skills. The best companies not only encourage but also incentivize ongoing learning. Exposure to fresh ideas stimulates new ways of thinking and reignites curiosity. When we’re curious, we’re fully engaged in our work.

Playing the “Work Game” to Win

Work conditions are ever-changing, and only clear expectations can align a team in a fluid environment. One effective way to align the team is through a weekly routine of identifying and reporting your top three objectives. Sharing these objectives helps align the team, pending approval from the team lead. Setting and sharing straightforward goals combats any uncertainty about our work.

As employees, we serve the company’s agenda, and even on the best teams with supportive leaders, we might feel resentful. We can look at the success of others with envy and take it as evidence that they have an unfair advantage. But even if we feel justified in our resentment, it is a boomerang that will destroy our careers and leave no mark on our rivals.

Rather than resenting the “work game” we are playing, we can clarify our reasons for working. When we see how a job moves us toward our strategic objectives, then our day-to-day frustrations at work will fit into place. They become a crucial part of a life plan we’ve designed, a price we’re willing to pay to add value at work and achieve our personal goals.

5 Ways to Win the Game of Work

Here are five straightforward ways you can apply the concepts from this article to improve your work and life:

  1. Weekly Objectives: Start each week by setting your top three objectives that align with the company’s mission. Share these with your team lead for approval. This practice brings clarity and focus to your work.
  2. Self-Awareness and Reflection: Clarify how your daily tasks contribute to the mission. Seeing this connection will help you value your work and increase your engagement.
  3. Open Communication: Don’t hesitate to ask for clarity if you’re unsure about your role or the expectations set for you. Open dialogue can prevent misunderstandings and help you align better with your team’s objectives.
  4. Continuous Learning: Always look for opportunities to learn and grow. Whether mastering a new software tool or a soft skill like leadership, continuous learning keeps us engaged—it also makes us more valuable to the company.
  5. Combat Resentment: Instead of harboring negative feelings towards others, put all your energy into growing yourself and your skills. See your job as a tool that enables you to reach your non-work goals. This perspective shift can make daily frustrations more bearable.

In today’s fast-paced work environment, it’s easy to feel like you are playing an unwinnable game. From unclear expectations to a lack of engagement, the challenges are real. But as we’ve seen, there are steps you can take to play your own winning game. Set weekly objectives, foster open communication, and show up prepared to learn. In this way, you can align your daily tasks with your company’s mission—and your own career goals.

Don’t let resentment or complacency derail your professional journey. Stay on track by implementing these strategies. Remember, the key to a fulfilling career isn’t in external circumstances but in your daily choices. Today, start transforming your work life from a daily grind into a fulfilling endeavor.

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