Main image of article Finding a Support Network Outside Your Job
shutterstock_183501380 When it comes to job satisfaction, your work environment plays an important role in your overall happiness. A recent survey found that 36 percent of tech professionals love their jobs, while the rest were either neutral or unhappy at work. Factors such as recognition, gratitude, emotional support, and camaraderie are vital to being satisfied in the workplace. Feeling like you fit in the culture of your office, and that you’re supported by co-workers, leads to greater satisfaction. But what if your job lacks those characteristics? Do you quit, or just remain miserable and unfulfilled? Since jumping from job to job isn’t the best alternative, you may need to find a support network outside your job.

The Issue with Isolation

Workplace isolation isn’t something to ignore. An academic study found that loneliness at work leads to social withdrawal and weaker productivity, motivation, and performance. While you may not have support or camaraderie at work, it doesn’t have to dampen your professional experience. John Stepper, author and founder of Working Out Loud, has found himself in similar situations. His negative experiences ultimately led him to start small peer-support groups that help members progress towards their goals. “I’ve felt this way at several points as I’ve worked in large organizations,” said Stepper, whose Working Out Loud groups are now in 16 countries and several organizations. “Usually, I would just bear it, thinking that’s just the way things are. Of course I could have quit and hoped the grass would be greener at some other company, but that seemed like a huge risk for something so uncertain.” Instead, Stepper decided to learn new things and actively reach out to people on social platforms to support his goals. He began to share his work and goals with his expanded network, and found that the groups he formed gave individuals a sense of purpose at work, as well as increased access to people and opportunities.

Benefits of a Support Network

While a support network can add motivation and encouragement to your professional life, it can also prepare you for the unexpected. “There are statistics that suggest that people who have a professional network are unemployed or in transition for a lot less time than people who don’t have that network,” said Trish Barber, president of Women in Technology. “We kind of lose sight of that when we’re in our careers and things are going along full tilt. We actually had testimony from a couple of women that were surprised by a layoff or surprised to find themselves in a transition situation, and that not having a professional network was a huge detriment to them.” Stepper suggests having different kinds of support networks to boost your career and personal growth. He’s in a small, intimate group that meets weekly to discuss issues they’re having and the help they need; his other networks help him develop specific skills. “For most of my career, I didn’t have these kinds of networks, and my professional growth was stunted,” Stepper said. “My only choice seemed to be to keep doing what I was doing—if my company would let me. With a broad and diverse network, I’ve become much more effective, and I find work more fulfilling.”

Finding Support

Everyone can find a support network; you just have to be intentional about it. Barber says a good place to start is looking back into your history to find someone to connect with, whether it’s a college professor or former colleague. Another step is joining a professional organization with a cause you care about and make time to get involved. “It was hard for me to pick myself up and get out to a networking event every once in a while, but joining an organization like Women in Tech and taking a role on a committee forced me to do that,” Barber said. “It ends up being more meaningful that way because you’re actually working with people and demonstrating skills to each other and getting to know each other in a way you wouldn’t at a networking event.” Stepper said that building a network isn’t about tools or techniques, such as connecting on a social platform or building a personal brand, but about having a set of habits and the right mindset, a practice he’s developed through his organization’s peer-support groups. “Each step you take in building relationships helps you feel more empowered and connected, tapping into your intrinsic motivation,” Stepper added.