You hate your boss. Your coworkers give you the cold shoulder. Your to-do list is either painfully boring or terrifyingly long. These sound like valid reasons to hate your job. But in truth, they’re only the surface cause of your misery. Dig deeper, and you’ll discover underlying reasons you’re unhappy at work that are, fortunately, fixable.
“The ‘I hate my job because (fill in the blank)’ usually exists because too much time has passed where the ‘blank’ has gone unattended to,” says human resources expert Tiffani Murray. “Or other circumstances make the ‘blank’ appear bigger than it ought to be. Stepping back, assessing where you want to be in your job and career and digging deeper into the hatred is the way to find resolution and determine a next step.”
Keep reading for eight reasons you might be unhappy at work — and, even better, how to solve them.
Reasons You’re Unhappy at Work
What You Say: ‘I’m Bored at Work’
The Real Reason: Your efforts have been unrecognized.
The Symptoms: You feel unmotivated. You seek out diversions to real work, such as updating social media or shopping a flash sale.
The Solution: Seek out feedback.
If you’re bored at work, it could be because you’ve been doing the same thing for too long and you’re ready for a change. Or it could be that you feel no matter how hard you work, you never get that “atta girl!” you deserve. If either is the case, seeking out feedback from your boss is a way to end this morale killer.
“A lot of times, a supervisor is not aware that someone is looking to move up the ladder,” Murray says. “If you don’t say anything, and you appear to be doing your job well, the thought usually is, ‘Let’s keep that person in that job.’ You have to take the initiative and let your boss know, ‘I want more opportunities to learn more things.’”
So, the next time you submit that big project and get zero feedback in return, don’t let it discourage you. Instead, ask your boss what she thought of it, and ask her for something more challenging next time around.
What You Say: ‘The Hours are Too Long’
The Real Reason: You’re overloaded with responsibilities but are afraid to push back and say, “No, I can’t take on more.”
The Symptoms: You’re the first in and/or the last to leave, and even when you’re not at work you have a Pavlovian response to the “ding” from your smartphone.
The Solution: Talk to your boss about suggestions on ways to better organize and prioritize your workload.
“Some people don’t know how to say ‘no’ to added responsibilities …,”says Murray. Tell your boss you need to discuss how to better organize your workload.
Ideally, having this conversation will open your boss’ eyes to exactly how much you have to get done—and how impossible that is within a 40-hour workweek. Also, she might give you guidance on what to prioritize and what deadlines can be spaced out a bit more. This can give you some much-needed breathing room (and some recognition from a supervisor who might not have realized how much you’ve been working).
What You Say: ‘I Hate My Coworkers’
The Real Reason: The problem might not be the people but rather the culture of the organization.
The Symptoms: You feel ganged up on or left out, or you find yourself arguing—a lot.
The Solution: If the culture isn’t the right match for you, you should consider moving on.
If the workplace culture doesn’t mesh with your personality, odds are the people there won’t either. For example, if the business feeds on competition amongst coworkers, and you’re not a competitive type, you’re going to chafe at that type of energy. And that’s going to make you hate the guy who’s constantly trying to one-up you, even if in doing so he’s just getting his job done.
If leaving the job isn’t feasible, figure out how to make the environment less stressful. If there are people you particularly abhor, make sure you take your lunch an hour after or before they do. Or request a desk change. And think about the end game. “Focus on your work and your goals,” says Murray. “Give yourself an 18- to 24-month time limit. During that time, strive for a promotion and get it. Then, start looking for your next job.”
Before doing something that drastic, realize that work friends often only last as long as you’re at that job. Focus instead on strengthening your friendships outside of the office.
What You Say: ‘I’m Underpaid’
The Real Reason: You feel stifled and unfulfilled.
The Symptoms: Simple–you look at your paycheck and grumble.
The Solution: Find out what opportunities exist for you not only to get promoted to a higher-paying job, but to contribute more to growing the company.
Making a lot of money definitely makes life easier. You pay your bills, you even have a little left over for the fun stuff. But if you hang your work happiness on that biweekly paycheck, you’re giving short shrift to what happens every other day of the week. You have to show up, you have to perform, and, ideally, you have to feel satisfied by the work you do. If you feel fulfilled professionally and are given the license to be creative and develop new ideas on the job, you will get satisfaction that goes beyond the paycheck.
“People want to be heard,” says Sandy Mazur, division president at Spherion Staffing Services. “Base salary is a way of attracting someone to a company. But if you look at what makes people stay in their jobs, base pay takes a backseat to how well they can advance their careers. People also want to know their opinion matters. Then you take more ownership of the job.”
Ask your boss for ways you can contribute more to the team. Give her ideas on how processes could be done more efficiently. Have an idea for a new product? Take a deep breath and pitch it. When your paycheck isn’t your only payoff at work, you’re bound to feel more fulfilled.
What You Say: ‘I Feel Trapped in this Job’
The Real Reason: You are bored and unchallenged by your job, yet quitting is not an option.
The Symptoms: You dread Mondays and the days feel incredibly long.
The Solution: Find inspiration in places outside of work.
One in four workers rates his job satisfaction as fair or poor, according to Spherion’s Emerging Workforce Study. That’s a lot of unhappy employees. “When you spend so much time doing boring things, it affects other parts of your life,” says Nicole Williams, a career expert and author of “Girl on Top.” “You feel really tired, not because you are tired, but because you can’t get out of the rut.”
To motivate yourself, find a mentor or go to a career-related conference that will remind you of why you chose your profession in the first place. Or become a mentor yourself. Sometimes motivating someone else can have the benefit of motivating you as well, Williams says.
If that doesn’t work, stop trying to find your inspiration at work. “Physically challenge yourself,” says Williams. “Take a walk. Go for a run. Or find something else you are interested in and do that. When you get involved in something you are interested in, your workday can feel less boring.”
To solve the “trapped” feeling on the job, ask yourself when was the last time you took on an assignment that truly scared you. If it’s been a while, have a conversation with your supervisor about taking on extra responsibility. Trying something new at work can be equally liberating.
What You Say: ‘I Hate My Boss’
The Real Reason: Your boss doesn’t fully recognize your efforts causing you to feel unappreciated and resentful.
The Symptoms: When his name is in your inbox or you hear his voice coming down the hall, you cringe.
The Solution: Ask your boss for feedback on your performance, and give him some feedback on his.
If someone is constantly telling you what to do but never giving you any recognition for your efforts, yeah, it’s easy to hate them. The same is true if his or her management style is contrary to your personality. If your boss uses yelling and name-calling to get results, and that’s not what motivates you, you will learn to dread those weekly staff meetings.
MORE: How to deal with a toxic boss
But hatred can be diffused by communication, says Williams. “A lot of times bosses don’t recognize that what they are doing is causing problems,” she says. For example, if your boss is a screamer, Williams advises you tell her, “I know you must be frustrated, and I know it’s a hard job, but I’m going to perform better if you don’t scream at me.” One of Williams’ clients tried this approach and was successful. “The boss said, ‘I didn’t realize I was raising my voice to that degree.’ There was surprisingly receptive feedback to that conversation. And often, negative boss behavior is bully behavior. Once they’re called out on it, they usually go and pick on someone else.”
What You Say: ‘I Chose the Wrong Career’
The Real Reason: You’ve given up on your dreams.
The Symptoms: Feeling discontented and as if work is something you have to do, not something you could ever enjoy.
The Solution: Pursue your dream outside the office.
Maybe you chose the career your parents wanted for you, rather than the one you wanted. Or you did all the hard work to get the necessary training and degrees only to realize that you hate the work you now have to do. Either way, you’re no longer chasing your dream, and that can leave you discouraged.
“Women rationalize by saying, ‘I should relocate for this job. I need the salary to support my family. I spent six years in school for this.’ They’re talking about what they should do and have to do, instead of living from their authentic self,” says Career Expert Cornelia Shipley. “Solving this involves reconnecting to your dream in some way.”
Maybe you wanted to be a ballerina but your parents encouraged you to get your MBA instead. So, start taking dance classes again, teach dance or join the board at your local dance company. Maybe you became a doctor because you wanted to help the poor, but your student loans quickly led you to a different path. Volunteer at a clinic in a low-income neighborhood.
“Ask yourself, ‘What is the truth behind my dream today, and how do I incorporate that dream into my life?’” Shipley says. “If you connect the dots, you will get to the truth of what it is you truly want to do.”
What You Say: ‘I’ve Hit the Ceiling’
The Real Reason: You’ve given up control of your career to someone else.
The Symptoms: You feel powerless over your career and don’t see a way out of the job you’re in.
The Solution: Communicate where you want to be and ask for help getting there.
You’ve been walking into the same cubicle for five years, doing the same work, barely getting cost-of-living raises, and you don’t see a way that things will change. Maybe your company is small and has very little opportunities for advancement or you’ve looked for other jobs but nothing has panned out. And so you work, watch the clock and have stopped planning for the future. If so, you’re not alone: only 28 percent of employees are satisfied with their current growth and earnings potential, according to data from Spherion’s Emerging Workforce Study.
Instead of puttering along in neutral, you need to create a new path for yourself. Don’t wait for your boss to suddenly notice you. Instead, “You have to decide which job you want and go after it,” says Shipley. Approach your boss about what opportunities there are for your advancement. Talk to human resources about job openings in other departments that might suit you. Get the extra schooling or training that will help make you more attractive to employers. But most of all, take control of your own career.
“If you put your boss in charge of making things happen for you, you will be disappointed,” says Shipley.
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