‘I am a frontline civil servant at a dead end in my present role. I would like a change’

Tell Me About It: ‘I have become frustrated and disheartened with a job I have loved’

PROBLEM: I am a frontline civil servant approaching 30 years of service and am fortunate to have the option of retiring at 52 years of age or continuing in this job until I’m 60. I would like a change and won’t need a huge salary because I’ll be mortgage-free, and my wife works.

I could probably get local casual work, but would rather use my experience and qualifications in a more productive way. I am at a dead end in my present role and feel I am not appreciated for my contribution so far. I have become frustrated and disheartened with a job I have loved, but I will not progress in terms of promotion or role at this stage. This is possibly due to my age and/or lack of (let’s call it) “networking”. I’m aware of Springboard+ and keep an eye on vacancies, but I think I need career guidance for a person of my age.

I still have so much to offer, but my current employer doesn’t see it.

ADVICE: Stagnation in your working life at the age of 52 is an issue worth tackling as you have so much of your life in front of you. One aspect of your situation is that you are suffering from resentment at your lack of progress and recognition, so you need to make sure this does not sour your optimism for the future.

Career guidance would be an excellent idea and perhaps you might also see what other people have done in your situation, as I’m sure you are not the first to take early retirement, so make inquiries and organise to meet a range of those who have left successfully in the past. What you need is an exit plan, and this plan needs to address both your future opportunities plus any sense of flagging self-esteem, and these aspects can work in conjunction with each other. You might re-establish your confidence by connecting with the great service to the community you have provided so far – there is no doubt that as a frontline worker you have people who appreciated your dedication.

You can ask friends and family what they think your contribution has been. However, frontline work places a huge demand on those who do it, so burnout is a common theme among the ranks of those who find themselves in the job for years. It is now time to take a breath, invest in your self and consider your own needs going forward. Have you considered counselling alongside the career advice option? This might help you uncover any sources of a sense of deflation and low self-esteem and help you to make good decisions in time ahead. It would be surprising if your organisation did not have confidential counselling as an option and you should research this immediately. It often takes huge courage to reach out for help but you have taken the first step by writing the letter so use this momentum to take this a step further.

Confidence is not just an emotional and mental aspect of our being; it is also very relevant to our physical and social wellbeing. Consider joining a gym, sports club or (if you are brave enough) yoga class as this will give you a sense of wellbeing that will add to your self-confidence and may well have a social aspect that could widen your circle of friends. Your exit plan will involve talking, both to others and about yourself, so start by doing this on a daily basis – you could build a habit by talking to those close to you first and then to colleagues and friends.

It can help to try conversations in places that are not the usual ones, eg asking your wife to go for a walk on a beach or go out for breakfast and explain that you need her help to talk through what is happening to you. The aim is not to come to a solution quickly but to explore all the options, feelings and aspirations until you have a calm sense of what is important to you. Your friends will understand and be supportive if you allow them to know what is going on and counselling and career advice will offer you grounding and faith in your abilities.

Because you will have an income, your range of options is good, and you may well be able to marry some of your considerable experience with additional study and find a meaningful occupation for yourself. It is difficult to emerge from stagnation but your major contribution to life may yet be in front of you if you manage to be open and alert to opportunities.