Expert medical career coaching is a key intervention to help senior clinicians recover.
Do you feel that you have been let down by your organisation or your colleagues, or that you haven’t been able to progress in your career as you had hoped due to injustice or unfairness at work? Or maybe there’s a member of your team or a colleague who has disengaged, citing reasons which may include ‘I feel unfairly rewarded given how hard I work compared to others’, ‘I feel undervalued as a clinician in this organisation, it’s all about the management targets’, ‘I feel that no one has engaged with me about why a certain decision was made and that I’ve been kept in the dark’? If so, you or your colleague may be struggling with an experience called workplace embitterment.
Embitterment is an emotion which encompasses ‘persistent feelings of being let down, insulted and being revengeful but helpless’, which most commonly happens in a work context. Embitterment reactions happen to people in their career when there is conflict with one’s deeply held beliefs and values, usually relating to an event at work which is experienced as being unjust or unfair. Workplace embitterment can arise from a single event, or from multiple smaller events over time, and can become chronic, often leading to poorer performance, and a loss of enthusiasm and commitment at work.
As experiences of injustice and unfairness both occur frequently in the workplace, the prevalence of workplace embitterment is common; in my experience as a leadership and career coach, embitterment is common in senior doctors, and more common in people for whom justice and fairness are deeply held values and in people who care deeply and passionately about their work.
Embitterment is often associated with work-related rumination (repeated cycling of thoughts). This can often be in the form of ‘co-rumination’ with colleagues relating to complaints about the organisation or its staff or leaders, leading to a downward spiral of low morale across a team or department or a whole organisation, increased levels of stress and burnout, and for some, the development of mental health conditions.
As a leader or manager, a member of staff experiencing chronic embitterment can take up a significant proportion of your time and energy. As well as supporting the affected staff member to recover, you may need to protect yourself and other colleagues if the affected member of staff is displaying signs of their distress in the form of anger or withdrawal. Supporting a member of staff with chronic embitterment may require a multidisciplinary approach offering a range of interventions, this may include:
- occupational health to see whether support or adjustments are needed for a possible mental health or substance use concern
- mediation if relationships have broken down within the workplace
- and human resources and organisational development input will often be needed.
Expert career coaching which is independent from and external to the organisation is also an ideal intervention to help people to recover from chronic embitterment. In order for the affected individual to take action to re-engage with their career, the coach may need to offer both a high level of support and a high level of challenge; this is congruent with my own approach to coaching of ‘ruthless compassion’ for my clients in service of helping them to move forwards in their professional lives.
For some people affected by chronic embitterment, a successful recovery may mean a change of employer or team, for others it is possible to rebuild the sense of trust and commitment to their existing role over time once the affected individual is more clear about what they need in their working life and is able to skilfully communicate this to others (with the organisation responding positively to these needs where it can).
Many senior doctors who are experiencing chronic embitterment contact me when they recognise that ‘they can’t go on like this’, or ‘something’s got to change’. They are often at the point of resigning, going off long term sick, or taking a leave of absence. Most once felt passionate about their careers, and feel lost and confused that things have spiralled out of control in a downwards direction. Many feel a sense of grief and sadness, often expressed as anger, that this experience has happened to them.
I help senior doctors to recover from chronic embitterment through highly personalised evidence based coaching interventions grounded in theories including psychology, neuroscience, behaviour change, communication theory, occupational health and career counselling. I also coach senior doctors in leadership roles and help them to skilfully manage their staff with chronic embitterment, helping them to support the affected individual – and also themselves and the rest of the team. Expert career coaching for doctors combined with career counselling for doctors is a highly effective way to help an individual and/ or a team recover from chronic embitterment, usually returning affected clinicians to full function again over a period of time.
If you feel you may be struggling with chronic embitterment at work, please contact me or book a consultation with me today to find out how I can help you to recover from this common workplace concern. If you feel a colleague or a member of your team would benefit from working with me, please get in touch and we can discuss how that would work; when I work on behalf of an employer then I can do that effectively if the affected individual is willing rather than coerced, and if we set very clear boundaries about my role being specifically ‘for’ the affected individual, enabling me to be wholly impartial and confidential, as an external third party separate from the organisation.
Recovery from chronic embitterment is possible with expert coaching, I can help you to find meaning, purpose, satisfaction and wellbeing in your career and to move forwards again.
Dr Fiona Day (MBChB, FFPH, Dip Occ Med, ILM 7 Executive Coaching and Mentoring) is an expert Medical Leadership and Medical Careers Coach. Fiona helps Doctors and Professionals to succeed as Leaders and to improve their careers and working lives, using evidence based psychological theory and behaviour change science. Download a free career planning workbook and find out more at www.fionadayconsulting.co.uk; to explore working with Fiona please book a confidential half hour Career Consultation here.
 Linden 2003
 Linden et al 2008
 Michailidis and Cropley 2018
 Sensky 2016