What to Do When You Hate Your Job

These practical steps will help you work through problems at work, whether they're big or small.

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Alison Green
At some point in your career, you’re highly likely to run into a difficult boss, toxic co-workers, or an unpleasant work culture.

Whatever the problem, the ultimate solution is generally the same: Step back, remove your emotions from the equation, and try to figure out what you can and can’t change. Decide what you’re willing to live with, and where your bottom line falls.

Easier said than done, right? So let’s break this down:

1. Step back and remove your emotions from the equation.

It’s difficult to make good decisions for yourself when you’re angry or frustrated or feeling slighted. Those are mindsets that lead to decisions that are more about “I’ll show them” than about the outcome that will be best for you. The more you can step back from the situation and look at it objectively, as opposed to letting your emotions drive you, the more likely your decision will be one that you won’t regret later on.

[See 10 Ways to Make Any Job Healthier.]

2. Figure out what you can and can’t change.

Frequently when people are unhappy with some aspect of their job, they suffer silently rather than speaking up. Not every problem is surmountable, of course, but quite a few are, and even if you're convinced it's not worth raising, you might be surprised if you give it a shot.

For instance, if the problem is that your manager micromanages you, consider talking to him or her. Be calm and professional, explain what you’re noticing, and suggest solutions. At a minimum, this will give you useful information about where your manager is coming from. For example, you might hear that your boss isn’t open to a different style at all, or that you’re being micromanaged because your work isn’t what it should be, or that your manager will be more hands-off if you provide more frequent updates. Drop your defenses and be open to hearing his or her response, even if you ultimately decide you disagree.

Sometimes things can change once they’re brought to the surface. Other times they won’t. But once you’ve tried, you can make better decisions for yourself with more complete information.

[See How Loving Your Job Helps You Succeed.]

3. Determine your bottom line.

If talking about the problem doesn’t solve it, and all signs point to a low probability of anything changing, your next step is to decide whether you can find ways to live with the situation and still be reasonably happy. If you can't, you’re probably better off accepting that so that you can start looking for ways to move on. But often, if you accept a workplace difficulty as part of the package, you can find ways to live with it more comfortably.

A useful step in doing this is to get really clear on what your bottom line is: what things matter most to you, what trade-offs you are and aren’t willing to make, and what you value most. For instance, maybe you can’t stand your manager but you love having a short commute and you’d rather keep that commute, even if your manager is part of the deal. Or maybe you’ll decide that you’re willing to triple your commute if it means getting a new boss. There are no right answers here–it’s just about getting really clear in your own mind about what matters most to you.

No matter what you decide though, the key is to survey the situation calmly and rationally and make decisions based on how things truly are rather than how you wish they were. That's a lot more satisfying than a constant struggle.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.