How to manage up when you’re feeling down

Written by Danika Turner & Edda Hamar

Being unhappy at work feels shit. 

Feeling misunderstood, undervalued and constantly wondering if you belong is exhausting. And over time, it can develop into poor performance and low productivity. These feelings ultimately ripple throughout the office, weakening morale and dividing teams. Disengagement isn’t great for business. And it’s contagious. 

Building an engaged workforce is a collective effort. It relies on employees to be self-aware and to take responsibility for the energy they bring to the office. But it’s equally importantly for leaders to recognise and manage disengagement with compassion, while creating a workplace where people are valued, heard and celebrated. 

Most of us don’t show up to work with the intent to spread negative energy, but sometimes it’s bloody tough to pretend everything is okay. So, what do you do? Here’s how to take the first steps when you’re feeling down and disconnected at work. 

Don’t delay, book in a meeting

Disengagement can manifest differently from one person to the next. If your manager isn’t in tune with how you’re feeling, you can end up slipping under their radar. If you’re a remote worker, disengagement can be even easier to miss. 

But when you feel your heart sinking at work, it’s time to take action.

Book a meeting with your manager, boss, or a senior member of your team whom you trust to hear your concerns. It can be particularly nerve wracking if your conflict is with a direct manager but the only way out is through, book in that meeting!

Meet with feelings and solutions

Schedule the meeting  in a space where you feel safe to share your thoughts (tip – avoid glassed meeting rooms and common areas!). Sometimes it’s easier to take a walk – it’s a more neutral setting where you don’t have to sit opposite each other, and walking side-by-side eliminates hierarchical boundaries. 

The goal is to share how you’re feeling (yes, feelings are allowed at work, bring tissues if you need) and explore solutions. Discuss your frustrations, motivations and expectations. Make a list of discussion points if you feel nervous. By putting forward solutions like “If I can work from home once a week, it would take the pressure off my work relationship with Jimmy” or “If we could have a quick catchup before our client meetings, it would help me get in the right headspace” or “If we had the kitchen on a rotating roster, I wouldn’t always have to do the dishes”. Solutions show that you’re committed to changing your current circumstances and taking control of your mindset. Keep in mind, simply having this meeting could also be a solution – a chance to voice your concerns and have your experiences validated. And that’s fine too.

Sometimes, it’s best to walk away 

So, you’ve taken steps to meet with your manager/HR/leadership team and nothing is changing. Either they’re not taking you seriously or there is a toxic person in the mix who’s blocking your efforts. You have two options; press on with formal complaints or walk away. This is a personal decision that only you can make. But remember, your mental health is more important than any job. 

Hey leaders, know your power 

As always, change starts at the top, and leaders carry a big responsibility when it comes to setting the mood and tone of an office. In his research into leadership development, Behavioural Statistician Joseph Folkman found that leaders have a greater impact on the moods of others than friends do(!). 

“Leaders need to be aware that every interaction can make a difference, every meeting can be inspiring, and every discussion can create a stronger commitment. When leaders understand this, they start to take advantage of every interaction. They look for ways to encourage, support, build and inspire.”

Turns out engagement is also contagious. Research has shown that if you have a close friend who is happy, the probability that you will be happier increases by 25%. Many people go through life with the belief that their interactions with others are unremarkable or go unnoticed. But we all have the potential to brighten someone’s day and change the mood with a smile, a hello, a compliment, and a genuine offer to help. And you’ll feel better for it, too.

At the end of the day, building happy workplaces is a team effort. We need caring leadership, regular check ins, and the initiative to take responsibility for the energy we bring to work. It’s not rocket science. And when we get it right, it’s damn worth it. 


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