You have a job in a tough economy – congratulations. But you hate what you’re doing, yet you keep doing it, day after day, because you need the paycheck, the benefits, and everything else. Now what?
Many Americans are more dissatisfied at work than in years past, even though the economic outlook is improving and jobs are becoming more available. But there’s more at stake than tears and tirades at the water cooler. Unhappiness at work has economic implications for both employers and employees. According to MetLife’s most recent Study of Employee Benefits Trends, more than a third of 1,400 full-time workers are so unhappy they expect to change jobs within the next 12 months.
A recent Gallup poll also found that those who are “actively disengaged” in the workplace rate their lives more poorly than those who are unemployed. Not only are disconnected workers less likely to put in extra effort on the job, their lack of enthusiasm – besides hindering their career advancement – tends to drag down those around them.
And then there’s the young and the miserable. According to The Conference Board’s last job satisfaction survey, 64 percent of workers under the age of 25 said they’re “unhappy” at work – the highest level of job dissatisfaction for young workers since 1987, the year the study began.
No matter what’s causing employment unhappiness, career strategists and job counselors say employees can seize the reins and improve their lives at work, provided they face some tough realities. John Strelecky, career coach and co-author of How to Be Rich and Happy; Michele Woodward, career strategist and master certified coach in the Washington, D.C. area; and Richard Bolles, author of the perennial bestseller What Color Is Your Parachute? shared advice and strategies.
1. Do Less of What You Hate.
Put in your time each day, do your job really well – and then get out of there. “It’s amazing to me how many people have an escape plan for a job they hate that consists primarily of working more hours at the job they hate,” says John Strelecky. In your free time, go biking, take in an art show, cook, spend time with family, do volunteer work – whatever makes you happy. “It will remind you how much fun it is to do the things you love, as well as make your time at work seem more bearable.” It might also lead to new opportunity, Strelecky suggests: If you really enjoy biking, why not consider a job, a company or an organization associated with that activity? In others words, why not mix business and pleasure?
2. Admit How Awful It Is.
Instead of trying to make the best of a bad work situation – and trying to ignore how you’re feeling – face your unhappiness head on. Only by admitting and facing reality will you be able to do something about it. “You need to be blunt and tell yourself, ‘This really sucks,’” advises Michele Woodward. “That will actually help create the momentum to make a change.” Richard Bolles puts it this way: “Only when you’ve identified exactly what you hate most about your job – the boss, the tasks, the ethics, the pay, the location, or the hours – can you actually know what you most need to change.”
3. Get Away from Toxic Individuals.
The wrong people around you can poison a work environment – and too often employees try to tolerate a bad situation or deal with it on their own, hoping it will get better or go away, when, in all likelihood, it probably won’t. “If you really want to stay with your organization, activate your colleagues in order to make a lateral move somewhere else in the company,” advises Woodward. Success will, of course, depend on the opportunities available; large corporations generally have more to offer. “In smaller organizations, you’ll need to decide if you can put up with the difficult individual – and at what cost to your psyche and soul,” says Woodward. “If you can’t, you may have to leave.”
4. Determine What You’d Rather Be Doing.
No one can do the hard work of understanding what work you’d rather be doing than you – not friends, mentors, or supervisors. “Once you know what your dream job is, figure out who has it and learn everything you can about those individuals,” advises Strelecky. How did they get into that work? What do they like most about it? Their story will also help determine your expectations. “If it took them two years to get the job, you’ll know not to give up after six months.” Strelecky adds that knowing what a brighter future might look like “can take away much of the pain of a job you hate.”
5. Hone Your Job Search for Greater Success.
To streamline and improve your job search, take a “personal inventory.” This helps determine not just what you enjoy, but what skill sets you have for the fields that interest you. “You need a lot of energy for the job hunt,” says Bolles. “Energy is born from enthusiasm. And enthusiasm is born from having a vision of what work you’d most like to do – work that is so winsome you would die to find it.” If you had just six months left to live, you’d make your life exactly what you wanted it to be, says Strelecky. “Why not do that now, when you’ve got a heck of a lot more time than six months?”