What to do when you’re unhappy with your job

When you’re unhappy at work, self-reflection, honesty, and action will help you find purpose and fulfillment

WeWork The Pavillion in Bengaluru, India. Photograph by WeWork

Unfortunately, many of us feel dissatisfaction or downright unhappiness with our jobs at some point during life. It leads to apathy, and in worse cases, depression. You spend a significant portion of your week at your job, so disliking what you do leads to fast misery. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. In fact, more people feel some form of dissatisfaction with their employment than contentment or happiness. But you don’t have to stay in this state if you don’t want to.

You have to take an honest look at yourself when you don’t feel happy with your job. You also have to commit to fixing the problem once you identify it. Most solutions will not appear overnight, and you’re going to have to spend more than a week making your situation better. If you truly want to find more contentment and less dissatisfaction with your employment, then get ready to go on a journey.

1. Evaluate why you’re unhappy

Before you can solve the “not happy with job” problem, you must discern why you’re feeling like this. People are unhappy at work for a variety of reasons, and each reason will have different solutions. Take a look at a few common reasons people don’t like their jobs, and see if any of them apply to you.

You lack purpose

People need to feel a sense of meaning or purpose at work, or it becomes hard to deal with the drudgery. Can you point out the reason you stay at your job? If the reason is only “it pays the bills” or “I went to school for this,” then you’re lacking a bigger purpose and meaning.

You dislike your boss

Otherwise great jobs can feel terrible when the management is terrible. Take a look at your relationship with your boss or bosses. Do you get what you need from your superiors? Do you feel like the management team values you? Are you constantly butting heads?

Your pay or benefits aren’t enough

When you don’t feel like you get the pay, benefits, or flexibility you deserve, going to work every day is a challenge. Even if you believe what you do matters and you’re interested in the work you’re doing, it’s hard to put forth adequate effort when you don’t believe you’re paid fairly for what you do. Are you stretching each paycheck, lamenting missing family activities because of bad vacation time, or annoyed that you can’t telecommute?

You’re uninterested in your field

You might have spent money on a fancy education so you could go into a certain field only to discover a job that you’re unhappy with. Job satisfaction doesn’t always equate with what your interests were when you were in college, because working in a field can be very different from studying a field. Be honest with yourself: is the field at all interesting to you, or do you wish you’d done another major in undergrad?

2. Find a purpose

Purpose drives so much of what we do, including why we Google “unhappy in job,” so often. Your job is fine, your salary is decent, and your benefits fit your lifestyle. Yet, you don’t feel like what you do really matters. That can be a tough feeling to deal with, because you lose lots of motivation when you don’t feel like your role in the world is important.

Why did you go into this field or take a job at this company in the first place? Perhaps the company’s mission statement and values spoke to you. Maybe you believe in what the company is doing or you think the field you entered is important to the world overall. Discover how your job fits in with that bigger vision. Maybe this means asking your boss for different roles so you can feel more connected to the big picture.

Your purpose doesn’t have to relate to your job, either. Many people find purpose in making money to support their families or to pursue a hobby. If you can tell yourself that you’re doing this job because you want your kids to go to college, or because you love volunteering and donating money to a good cause, that’s going to help, too. Your purpose doesn’t need to mean something to anyone else. It just has to mean something to you.

3. Talk with your boss (or quit)

When you don’t feel like your boss values your contributions, you can either talk to your boss or quit and find a new job. The best course of action is to talk with your boss, first. They might have no idea you don’t feel valued, and a heartfelt conversation about your role at the company might be just the thing.

Sometimes, though, bosses are just bad. It’s part of life, and if your conversation falls flat, it’s time to start looking for something new. You’ve already got the skills and experience, so you can submit your resume to other companies and find a similar position. You should also look for open positions within your company, especially if other people in management are better to work for.

Communicate about pay and benefits

You may not be unhappy with your boss, per se, but unhappy with your pay and benefits. A conversation with your boss is still in order. Ask your boss for a private meeting, and prepare for the meeting before it happens. Gather up your strengths and your successes over the last six months or year, and use these to build the case that you’re worth a raise.

As far as benefits and flex time go, you might have to get a little more personal. Your boss is a human, and knows you’re a human, too. If you need a more flexible schedule because of family trouble or health, open up a bit about it. Explain that you’ll be able to give more to your job with a different schedule, and suggest (within reason) what kind of telecommute options would help you. For conversations about health care or other benefits, your boss will probably send you to HR, but management is sometimes a good resource for those things, too.

4. Find a new field

This is by far the scariest option, because you might have to go back to school or start at a lower level in a new field. People have a hard time giving up job security, even if the change will eventually lead to better job satisfaction. But if you don’t like your field, your best option is to take the drastic measure of trying something else.

First, did you learn any skills in your current field that will transfer to your new one? Can you apply part of your job now to a job in a new field? If you can find any overlaps, that will help your transition go more smoothly. Going from marketer to lawyer will take additional schooling. But going from marketer to graphic designer might not, if as a marketer you did some design work already.

5. Change your mindset

When you wake up in the morning already dreading work, you’ve conditioned yourself to feel miserable about a day that hasn’t happened yet. Altering your own mindset is a difficult task, and you won’t accomplish it overnight, but it will help to reinvigorate your own thoughts and feelings slowly.

Find one thing at work you enjoy doing, and try thinking to yourself about how much you enjoy it. Try smiling at your coworkers and clients more. Engage people in conversation, give them compliments, and make yourself pleasant to be around. People will reflect that positive energy back on you, making you feel better because you started off by making them feel good. Remember, you’re probably not the only dissatisfied person in the office. Life at work is better if you can all be friendly, not surly.

No job is perfect, but your job shouldn’t be miserable, either. If you find that you’re constantly unhappy, ask yourself, “why am I never happy with any job?” and really consider what the reason might be. You want to go to work in a place where you can feel purposeful and content every day. It’ll take some self-reflection and some significant action to make things better, but the solutions are out there. You’re rarely as stuck as you think you are, even in your employment.

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