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The 7-year Itch

The 7-year Itch
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First Published: Sun, May 09 2010. 08 16 PM IST

Updated: Sun, May 09 2010. 08 16 PM IST
Back at the reopened Oberoi, Mumbai. The same layout, the same staff, the same view, but a pristine, new white floor and unexpected splashes of red—the grand piano, the cushions, the torch lilies...down to the tiny goldfish swimming in the vase on each table at the newly resurrected Fenix. From my corner table, I watch my appointment, a banker who runs a blue chip bank, cross the lobby, nodding at the regulars on the way.
So, here’s the story. He’s doing well in his job, having weathered the last couple of years. The bad times are receding. The bank’s survived and is turning the corner. Dalal Street has woken up. His bosses like him and treat him reasonably well. He knows how to work the system. The money isn’t bad at all.
But...
Crossroads: Before deciding to quit a job, be clear about your reasons.
His best friend and arch rival has joined a private equity firm. An ex-colleague has turned entrepreneur. A big merged US bank has come-a-calling. The job’s really not bigger, but it’s just the excitement of waking up to something new. It’s the seven-year itch, he confesses, toying with the palm heart and green apple salad. Should he stay or should he go?
Now what? Well, firstly, I assure him, it’s perfectly normal. As in most relationships, there are ups and downs, there is comfort and predictability, there is the support of a long relationship between people who know each other well enough to complete each other’s sentences, and press each other’s buttons. He agrees that there isn’t anything significant attracting him to the new position and nothing really that is pushing him to the wall at his present job. And that he’s invested, has equity in his current situation. The bank knows him well, and rates him well. He’s guaranteed a reasonably predictable cash flow, and the organization has supported him through bad times. Yet somewhere the relationship has lost its fizz.
Having watched a number of people go through the seven-year itch at work, I have seen some professionals taking positive steps to come through it with a renewed sense of purpose—in their current or in new relationships—and some becoming increasingly frustrated, making suboptimal or inappropriate decisions on the way.
The first step, then, is to think it through before taking any calls. He can change his role, change his organization, or change his perspective. Isolate the source of discontent: Is it the role or the bank? Does he feel stifled or unfulfilled? Does he want to move industries? Change the structure of his job? Become an entrepreneur? Move into new products and geographies? Or is it the bank? Has it lost its way? Is it an ongoing situation or a temporary setback? Does his career build out seem limited? Is there a non-supportive boss? Does he feel marginalized? Will a new bank raise his flagging enthusiasm and give him more leverage? Or is it really just him? Is it fatigue from the sheer stress of keeping afloat in the last two years? The lack of buzz that year-on-year doubling of targets provided?
Having identified the source of the angst, he should then move on to the next step. Address and seek intervention, if necessary. Unfortunately, in many corporate marriages, some employees wait till the frustration is almost unbearable and they are already in an “affair” before bringing issues to the front. As in any relationship, it’s important that he discuss his concerns with, and possibly suggest solutions to, his mentor or boss.
In the past two years, organizations have been so focused on staying afloat that they may have taken their eye off the ball in terms of people development—and may not even realize, let alone address, the frustrations people may have.
So we talk about additional responsibilities or new product lines that he could get involved in. The possibility of pitching for a regional job. Briefly discuss the CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives the bank has initiated. Various ways of spicing it up, to get the magic back. It may well be worth the effort of “counselling”, provided of course that both sides are committed to making it work.
As we down our perfectly brewed espressos, we watch the goldfish endlessly circling each other in the bowl on our table. Eventually, he has to decide, with head and heart, whether the marriage is worth investing in. For now, he sighs longingly at the corporate version of the vision of Ms Monroe’s white dress billowing over the subway grating.
Sonal Agrawal is chief executive, Accord Group, an executive search firm.
Write to Sonal at careercoach@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, May 09 2010. 08 16 PM IST