When it just doesn't feel right...

I’ve been in my job for 19yrs, I work for a huge company so have effectively had about 6 different careers in the one company. Currently at mid level management. A new owner took us over 5 years ago and now we’re really starting to see a change in the culture...not necessarily for the better. I’m unsure of where my future lies, I’m unsure if the company is in line with my values. They are offering severance and I don’t know if I should take it and change careers, start a new challenge or stay and do what I know but focus on my other plans such as having a baby, family, home etc.


Thanks for your great question JE. It sounds like you know yourself what you need to do. Change is always scary, not because of what it can bring but simply because it is the unknown, and us humans don’t like the unknown. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that the thoughts of doing something is 100 times scarier than doing it. We spoke to two incredible women Joanne Hession and Rose Kennedy who shared their wisdom about the two sides of your story, culture dissonance and navigating change and having a family within your career path. It’s not easy to be brave, to challenge yourself or to question the status quo. But easy reaps few rewards on it’s own.

Joanne Hession, Founder LIFT Ireland 

Joanne Hession pictured at The network ireland Annual Conference in The Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarberry.

This is really important. If you’re in an organisation that doesn’t fit your value set, things will not be comfortable. Even if your skills match all the elements of the job and the organisation is one that you love in terms of its products, vision and its service, it still wont feel right if  your values are not aligned with the values of the organisation. On organisation’s culture is determined by the behaviour of its people which in turn, is set by the lived values in the organisation (not always the values written on  the walls). If the values being lived and accepted in the organisation are not in line with your own, then no matter what, it is extremely difficult to perform and remain highly engaged. So there are two questions. Have you got a position which will enable you to positively influence that culture? And  secondly, is that culture being led from the top through the new management and leadership structure and  unlikely to change? If the  answer is yes  to the first  question hen stay and if your answer is yes to the second question then it may just be that you’re at odds with it and somewhere else might have a culture that helps you fulfil your potential even more. It is very difficult to stay in a company that your values don’t align with - it’s one of the biggest reasons why people leave their jobs. 

You need to know what values are important to you and be really clear about what you’re not willing to compromise. Core values are different for different people.  It may be that learning and development are really key for you, they become your non-negotiable when looking at a job opportunity. So when you’re looking at potential external opportunities, you should be looking for examples and evidence of the values of L&D being lived within that organisation, that is  an organisation that really values learning and development in their people and don’t just pay lip service to it. At a more fundamental level, the values of respect, integrity, empathy, accountability and others should be embedded in every organisation and if these are core non-negotiables for you, talking to anyone who is working in an organisation you’re interested in will very quickly tell you if they’re lived or not as will searches online, articles written about, or by the company.  If you do get to interview, do not shy away from asking for examples of values being lived in the organisation, you’ll learn a lot. You are the talent, and the market is bullish for you. 

Don’t get me wrong, many, many people are working in organisations where they don’t have a value alignment, but that’s why we have the low employee engagement figures that we do, stress levels as high as we have and with people being only 40% present at work according to Harvard research and why trust levels are lower than they should be.

There’s always going to be fear around change, especially when you're not totally in control. At this point I ask you to ask yourself the following question. What if you stay there, what does that look like in twelve or 24 months time? If that’s comfortable for you then stay.  If not and the discomfort of doing nothing and staying where you are outweighs the fear of moving then move. Organisations are looking for really good people, where’s the fear in getting out there and looking at the other organisations that need your expertise? Where’s the fear around doing some research? When you place that against staying in a place that may breed unhappiness and possibly stagnation, the fear dissipates very quickly. 

Joanne Hession founded LIFT Ireland, a social profit organisation that aims to dramatically impact the levels of good leadership across Irish Society over the next ten years. It is free for individuals to participate, funded by its corporate partners.

Rose-Marie Kennedy, Director, Deloitte

From L to R, Kevin Cullinane, Cork Airport, Rose Kennedy, Deloitte, Sheelagh Daly, EI, Michelle Noone, Public Appointments, Helen Smyth, Facebook.

Prior to returning from maternity leave after having my first baby, I was energetic about getting back to work and keen to get back focussed on my career. I had progressed really quickly in my career to date and achieved a lot. When I returned to work following my first baby, I felt that my career had plateaued somewhat with no immediate avenue for progression. This was a feature in many ways of the financial services industry at the time and also the fact that I had progressed quite quickly prior to having my first baby. In my personal life, I knew that I wanted to have another child, potentially two more but I was at that stage in my career where I wanted to explore other opportunities. I was torn, should I just sit tight and have my babies, or explore options to move to a new role and pause having a second child for a short while.

During this time I decided to take ownership and responsibility over my career. I decided to invest more in me, do what I could to take back control. I got involved in a number of different external networks and industry working groups. As it turns out, my current employer was on one of those working groups and he approached me and asked if I would consider moving. Initially I said no, but a few months in I thought, why am I refusing this opportunity, this is something I should explore further. I was very torn between my personal and professional career goals. Myself and my husband discussed it a lot. I was still quite young to have more children and with that in mind I decided to take the leap and accept this opportunity.

I didn’t at any stage proactively go out circulating my CV but I did put myself out there. I always thought, don’t shout about how great you are, just work hard and you’ll be recognised - the typical female approach! But becoming more vocal, presenting and speaking at events, becoming recognised for being strong in my field of expertise, slowly but surely, my name became known and opportunities came my way organically.

In addition to this, during this time it is worth mentioning that I proactively sought to get involved in a women's mentoring programme (“WOW”) and was assigned my own mentor for the year. The focus of the WOW Programme was to build confidence, empowerment and achieve a step change in your career over the course of the year. I found this a key support for me during that year to support my decision to change roles and also to support me in the transition.

I started my new job and absolutely loved it, I had no regrets, I was hungry to make the best impression, I knew I had made the right move. Only one glitch, I got pregnant almost immediately following the move. I thought oh no what have I done! Even though we really wanted this child. I was torn, in one way I was absolutely delighted that we had conceived but from a career perspective, I though this is terrible, my new employer is going to react really badly to this and it will impact their view of me and how seriously I am taking my career. This wasn’t based on any impression I had been given from my new employer that they would react this way, it was clearly my own insecurities.

I know traditionally 12weeks is usually the time for telling everyone that you are pregnant but given the anxiety I had about telling my employer my news, I didn’t announce my pregnancy until I was 25 weeks pregnant. I was very creative with the clothes I was wearing!! The reality was that when I told my employer, there was no big deal and I was congratulated on my news, I had built it up in my own head. This new role had been a big jump for me, really good in terms of career progression and I was keen to continue to work hard, take all the opportunities available and to really prove myself before I finished up on maternity leave. Thankfully, I now know my fears were all internal.

When I came back from my second maternity leave, I dug in deep again for the next six months and reflected about trying for a third child. The same old questions came up in my head - should I wait until I’m re-integrated in the role, should I hold off to try and get another promotion. And I just thought, no!, if we want to have a baby we’ll just go ahead and try. I had learnt from my previous experience that you don’t need to choose between career and family, you can have both. We got pregnant for the third time very quickly. Again, I focussed on taking real ownership on my career objectives. I proactively met regularly with my appraiser and I took a handle on my own performance management. I became very clear about my objectives and my career plans. I finished up on maternity leave with a very clear sense of direction around where my career was and where it was going. 

I came back from maternity leave and was put forward for promotion pretty much immediately. I was delighted to get the opportunity but those niggles of self-doubt and lack of confidence were there in the background, was I good enough? Thankfully, I had a great support network around me throughout the interview process between my husband, friends, family, peers and my appraiser, and at the end I was successful within a couple of months.

Your family choices shouldn’t impact your ability to progress, I know for some people it does - but it shouldn’t. Based on my own experience, I think it is important to reflect on the fact that your career, depending on when it starts, will span over 40-45 years. If things do pause/plateau along the way, it doesn’t have to impact you significantly. Take ownership of your own career, your plans and your trajectory, consider lateral moves, explore expanding your cv while remaining in your current role or maybe look elsewhere, that’s when everything changed for me. 

In Deloitte, where I work now the culture is very much aligned to being your own authentic self and making an impact that matters. The value system is very much focussed on creativity, flexibility and supporting diversity. Professionally I do love a challenge, I like to feel motivated and to add real value to my clients in everything I do. Everyone has different priorities, for me I love to work. But on the other hand, my family is a massive priority, I will never shy away from that and I never want my work to be to the detriment of that. What I have learned over time is that you don’t have to choose, you can have both, you just need to figure out how to make that work for you.

For JE, you’ve been in that company for 19 years. Is there an opportunity for you to grow and learn where you are? Or is it time to move on. Don’t become complacent, that can turn into demotivation for you personally and ultimately lead to a lack of confidence. That of course, not only affects you and your own wellbeing, but also can impact those around you. Either way, step up and challenge yourself.

Please do post your own experience in the comments below, we're all in this together. If you have your own question hit the 'Request a Solution' button at any time. If you'd like to share wisdom on your own experience or field of expertise, hit the 'Share your Wisdom' button, you get the idea. Have a great day.