Coaching Insider: What Your Two Year Itch is Really Telling You

Coaching Insider: What Your Two Year Itch is Really Telling You

In this series, we present BetterUp coaches with realistic scenarios that we commonly encounter (and struggle with) in the workplace. They walk us through how they’d coach a client through the challenge and identify possible solutions. Got an issue you’d like one of our coaches to tackle in a Coaching Insider feature? Email

David has been with his company for about two years. During this time, he has received a promotion and is on track for another one. He likes his manager and his team, and feels his company gives him the flexibility he needs. But recently, he’s been feeling disengaged. While his workload hasn’t changed, he’s less excited about tackling his projects, and finds he can’t focus the same way he did when he first started with the company. He’s starting to wonder if it isn’t time to polish up his resume and start looking for a more exciting role in a new company.

David’s situation is not uncommon. Feeling disengaged and struggling to focus can be  quite stressful, and pushing through or ignoring these feelings is unlikely to work for most people. Here’s how I would approach getting to the root of the problem, and finding a solution that should help David identify what he should do next.

1. Acknowledge the issue

The first step in addressing David’s lack of motivation is to acknowledge and understand it. This will help David get on the right track. Let’s dig deeper to understand the underlying causes of his lack of engagement.

2. Assess goals, values, and motivators

Develop a clear picture of what drives excitement, engagement, and focus.
I’d start working with David to generate an inventory of his key motivators by reviewing his long-term career goals, and build a clear understanding of his ideal career path, and the roles he’d like to attain. In these discussions, we’d consider David’s professional interests, financial goals, and valued lifestyle factors.
Examples of how different values and goals could impact current decisions, include:

  • Becoming a C-level executive would require different work experiences than becoming an independent consultant.
  • Attaining stability to support a growing family might require less frequent career moves.
  • Pursuing constant learning and growth may lend itself to more frequent career pivots and more time spent outside areas of comfort and expertise.

Decisions about career choices become much more clear when these goals, values, and motivators are explored at the outset.

3. Discuss advantages and disadvantages of staying vs. leaving

With his goals in mind, I’d elicit David’s perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of staying with his current organization versus immediately seeking employment elsewhere. At this point, the focus would be on his company, not his specific role.
Examples might include:

Stay at current company Seek employment with other organizations
  • He has good relationships, a history of promotions and feeling supported, and a flexible work environment.
  • Some industries value career stability.
  • Learning to overcome boredom may be a useful skill, as this is likely to come up throughout a long career (and in the future, he may not be in a position to change jobs).
  • Other opportunities may reinvigorate excitement and energy for his work.
  • Evaluating other jobs may provide useful perspective on his current role and company (positive and negative).
  • If he’s not able to find engagement in his role or a new role in his company, becoming stagnant and disengaged can drain energy from work and personal life.
  • He could miss out on interesting opportunities elsewhere.
  • Looking for a job requires a lot of time and energy.
  • Seeking newness rather than improving a current situation may lead to missed growth opportunities. Plus, he may find himself in the same situation in a new company.
  • Leaving may impact professional relationships at his current company.

4. Explore Alternative Options

It’s very likely that over the course of our discussion, David will begin to see that he might have alternative solutions, beyond the simple “stay or go” paradigm. I’d urge David to generate most of these options, as only he can decide which ones are most relevant and enticing, but to help him brainstorm, I might suggest a few ideas, too. Alternative options could include:

  • Looking for a new role within his current organization.
  • Asking for projects outside of his “typical” scope of work.
  • Requesting permission or funding to attend a course, workshop, or conference to develop or increase functional expertise.

5. Compare and contrast

Once we’ve explored these options, we’d compare David’s list of the benefits, drawbacks, and alternative solutions with his goals, values, and motivators. Rather than assuming that he’ll be able to make a “perfect” decision (although if one emerges, that’s wonderful!), the focus of our conversation would be on generating two key outcomes:

  • Open the door to the various paths to explore.
  • Eliminate options that are clearly a poor fit at this time.

6. Create a Plan of Action

Based on the areas that need to be explored further, we’d develop a course of action.  Next steps should always be actionable, and ideally use the SMART framework (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).
Examples of next steps might include:

  • Search job boards and set up two coffee meetups or informational interviews in the next week, and begin making a list of:
    • Job responsibilities that are enticing, but not part of David’s current role
    • Roles or career paths which seem worth pursuing
  • Discuss options with a trusted colleague, mentor, or partner in the next two weeks.
  • Set up time to meet with his current manager in order to discuss new projects, learning opportunities, or other interesting roles within the organization by end of month.

7. Wrap up & Reflect

Always create accountability for follow-up
Now that David has some clear action steps, he’ll need to ensure he has an accountability system in place to accomplish these goals. An accountability system could be working with a coach or trusted peer, or simply creating a calendar reminder. If some action items are potential tasks for a later date, or incremental tasks as part of a longer-term project, I suggest developing a specific accountability plan there as well.
The value of reflection
I always recommend taking some time to consider whether this process was helpful or not. I find it’s important to approach  this type of situation from many perspectives, including short and long-term, as well as from professional and personal viewpoints. If going through this exercise doesn’t present viable options, it’s possible that there is room for additional expansion and creative thinking on different paths.
Original art by Vaclav Bicha.