Responsibility is an interesting burden. It can be something to live up to, something to undertake, something to look after or even something that you did. It is ever present, and depending on how heavily in features in your values and ethics, it drives behaviour.
Think about when you’re growing up and your parents give you more responsibility – perhaps letting you walk to school by yourself, giving you your first house key, letting you take the car. In all these situations they’re looking for you to grow into the responsibility, to take it on and prove that you can be trusted. Or when it happens at work, where you’re given extra tasks, perhaps progressing to managing projects, people and whole teams and departments. Each time you take the opportunity to learn, to grow and to deliver.
But what happens when you have responsibility taken off you? Depending on your personality and your situation, I see three paths you can take:
1) Overachieve – Ensure you do the best damn job of the things you now have control of. Go above and beyond, provided you’re not stepping on people’s toes.
2) Take it easy – you’re getting paid the same amount, so just play the role you’re tasked with. It might give you an opportunity to achieve that work/life balance or to concentrate on other things, like professional development courses.
3) Leave – pretty self-explanatory, and probably not entirely unexpected.
I think if it was me, I’d go for option three… I get a bit bored if I’m not learning, so if the job description does not provide me with the stimulation, I’ll go and find it, internally or externally. However if circumstances mean I’d need to stay, then I’m a number one type girl. I’ll volunteer to take on extra work, help others, or find detail that needs understanding or problems that need fixing. It’s always nice if someone eventually notices and I get rewarded for the extra effort, but in the absence of that at least I have learnt something.
I do know a few people who’ve taken the middle path, which is not definitely not the wrong path. These people have had responsibility stripped from them for whatever reason and have ended up shrinking to fit their role. Perhaps they had other priorities, personal situations, or they’re just waiting for the right opportunity to come up. Regardless of the background, there are a few unexpected outcomes to beware of that can arise from choosing type two. To borrow from the Arts:
Life imitates art. Shrinking to fit a role is akin to role playing. But if you do that for too long you might start to believe in your diminished capabilities and lose self-confidence. I’ve recently witnessed a similar situation, and it’s a little disconcerting to see someone who is extremely capable start second guessing themselves, and referring to someone who was essentially a peer for decision making.
You get typecast. You perform the role, putting in enough effort to ensure that you get by and you’ll risk being associated with that role forever. Well I might be exaggerating a little, but you get my drift. Opportunities for advancement will pass you by as you aren’t seen to step up.
No matter which path you end up taking, it’s probably fair to say that unless your old role was stretching you too far, the current role should be temporary. If you’re not in a role that challanges you, teaches you or stimulates you, you’ll become miserable very quickly. And you spend such a large portion of time at work, so when you’re unhappy, struggling or stressed out for more than half your waking time, it becomes very hard to turn off. If not kept in check the misery will start to infiltrate the other parts of your life. Even if you have solace at home, is it worth you being unhappy for even half the time?
My recommendation if you find yourself in a similar situation – extract yourself from it as best you can. Life is too short. Update your CV, apply for that transfer or that new job, reconnect with old colleagues and rebuild those networks. Once you get out you’ll find such relief. And the great thing is that this too will infiltrate into other parts of your life.