“I hate my job.” How many minutes since you last heard that? (Or were you just talking to yourself?)
Take a look at commuters in any major city or the lunch crowd during the work week. Do you recognize any of these?
- blank stares
- grumpy faces
- hunched shoulders
- people aimlessly rushing to get back to work before the lunch hour is up (or in some cases, the lunch half-hour . . . or even worse, people working through lunch, doing a grab ’n go)
Although there are people who legitimately love the work they do (and if you find them, ask them their secret), about 70% of American workers feel disengaged at work, according to a recent Gallup poll.
What are some of the reasons why there is so much job dissatisfaction and, more importantly, what can you do if you are in the 70%?
1. Routine, repetitive, boring, unstimulating, or unfulfilling work
Some professions, positions, or even particular companies may sound much more exciting on paper or in your mind than in the harsh Monday-Friday reality of the actual job itself. The fact is that in today’s work environment, there is an enormous amount of detailed, unglamorous work that just has to get done (BaU=Business as Usual). Whether that involves eye-straining screen time eight hours a day or other important but often repetitive tasks, there is a large proportion of job functions that by their nature are repetitive and boring to many people. When you combine those job functions with a fluorescent-lit cubicle or other less than optimal working conditions, the result is likely to be serious job dissatisfaction.
A related problem occurs when a person is the new kid on the block or the lowest-level employee in the pecking order. (We’ll call this the green-behind-the-ears coffee intern who doesn’t know any better.) The routine functions will be delegated to (should we say “dumped on”) that new person while the sexier tasks will be handled by the people who are more senior. This happens whether you are new to your industry or new to the job. People perceive you as being at the bottom, and that’s where the most undesirable functions usually reside.
2. Dissatisfaction with bosses, supervisors, managers, and others at the top
“I hate my boss” sometimes competes for the top spot with “I hate my job.” (And many times, one is the cause of the other.) The perennial hating of bosses may be unfair, as the person in charge might just be trying to get the work done by “running a tight ship.” In other cases, though, people are people, and they come in all sizes, shapes, and temperaments. If your boss is impossible to work for, a good job can turn ugly fast.
Managers should lead by example. They set the tone. What they might claim as your failures could actually be their own, whether due to lack of explanation, training, or leadership.
And it goes without saying (but we will say it anyway) that you should never feel mistreated at work. Zero tolerance. Find another job (and fall back on a side hustle if you have one—another good reason for having one—while you are looking).
3. Dislike of company culture and policies
Every workplace has its own culture, and it’s often hard to accurately pick up on that when you are interviewing. You can ask other people about the company culture, but they may not be up-front with you about any serious issues, often out of fear for their own position. (Can you be trusted? They just met you.) So it’s not uncommon for someone to research a job, accept the job, and then get thrown into the lion’s den and wonder what just happened.
Some people are also not happy at work because of unfriendly, outdated, or unfair company policies. These might relate to issues such as compensation, raises and bonuses, overtime, vacation time, oversight, employee reviews, reimbursement, or even more day-to-day functions such as punching in and out, unnecessary paperwork, expectations, company hours, etc.
4. Dislike of co-workers or other people at the workplace
Like it or not, when you accept a full-time position, you are there every day, eight (or more) hours a day, all year. And to bend a common saying, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your co-workers. So if you’re stuck with a roomful of people whom you really don’t like, it’s too bad for you. There’s nothing you can do except either quit your job or ask to be switched to a different area. Company culture is key.
5. Feeling as though your work is not important either to the company or the greater good
People like to feel as though they are making a positive difference. They want to do important work that is helping society in some way, helping other people, and having a positive impact. So if your job functions encompass tasks that seem insignificant to you, you might wonder why you even bother to get up, get dressed, and go to work.
6. Feeling underpaid and/or underappreciated
“I’m definitely being way overpaid,” said nobody ever. People usually think they deserve more money than they are actually earning. At some companies, the pay scales are transparent, and you know where you stand and what career progression you might expect if you stay. At other companies, compensation is a closed-door topic, where nobody knows what his co-worker, manager or boss is making. In both cases, it’s easy to feel as though you work very hard and are underpaid, especially in a tight economy where bills seem to rise faster than annual salaries.
A related complaint is that you are taking on a lot of stress and responsibility, but you don’t think you are paid enough to endure such burdens. Other people also feel as though they work hard day after day and nobody seems to notice the hard work they do or appreciate their sacrifices or good ideas.
7. Hours are too long; work-life balance non-existent
At some jobs, the concept of 9-5 (or even 8-6? 8-8?) is a fantasy from another century. The question: “What are the typical hours” at an interview seems to ruffle HR feathers, but the fact is that people need to know the time expectations so they can determine if the position would work with their family or other obligations (including maintaining their sanity). Balance is important in everything you do, and if you are working for most of your waking hours, with no time left for your personal life, that is out of balance.
From the perspective of an employer, vacation time, weekends, and days off are there so that you can feel refreshed to dive back in to do a good job. Any employer that infringes on this is not seeing the big picture.
8. Unreasonable demands
Some bosses may be out of touch with how long it takes to perform certain functions well, and may therefore throw more and more demands your way. While this is a good thing—they obviously value your skills and your work—it’s also a bad thing if you are constantly under pressure to produce at an unrealistic pace. The Catch-22 is that if you complain about being overworked, you may be viewed as lazy and replaceable; if you don’t complain, you end up in an upward spiraling cycle of more and more tasks that should really be done by more than one person. As in a breakup . . . it’s not you, it’s them.
9. Unpleasant working conditions/work environment
Not every job is going to be at a beautiful office with comfortable furniture, free lunches, beautiful artwork on the walls, and gorgeous views of the water. (If you have that, let us know so we can apply.) But if your workspace is beastly hot in the summer, cold in the winter, poorly lit, with uncomfortable chairs, rickety elevators just to get to the floor, old equipment and processes, it makes for an unpleasant day.
10. Not a good fit for you
After a couple of years at some jobs (or a couple of months? days?), some people start to get that gnawing feeling that they should be doing something else completely. Sometimes it’s because this particular company culture or boss, etc. isn’t a good match, but a job in the same industry or field would be better. Other times, people come to realize that the job they thought they’d love isn’t actually feeding their soul. Or they feel as though they could be a lot happier (or making a lot more money) doing something completely different.
If you have job fatigue, what can you do about that?
The answer depends upon so many factors, including the financial context. If you are single, for example, and have enough a financial cushion in savings, you might have a lot more flexibility in dealing with job fatigue than if you are supporting a family and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Nevertheless, there are some basic questions you should ask yourself and things to consider in addition to your financial circumstances.
The next section addresses the 10 topics mentioned above, in order:
1. Boring work:
If you find that the work assigned to you is extremely boring, ask yourself if this is just a function of being a junior person at the company. If this is a rite of passage that all new or younger employees take on, then you might decide to just suck it up and put in your time until your functions get more interesting. Some people get out of college and expect to rise to the level of upper management immediately. Welcome to the real world. Everyone puts in their time. (Even CEOs at major companies sometimes started in the mailroom.) If on the other hand, this work that you find dull and boring is what you will be doing long-term, then it would make sense to at least consider other options (while holding onto this job). Don’t give up this (dull) job until you find another.
2. Horrible bosses:
If your immediate supervisor is Godzilla reincarnated, then you have a few choices:
- Just ignore the personality issues (unless, of course, they cross the line, which is an entirely different story).
- If you think the person would be receptive to a candid discussion (without repercussions to your own job), then speak to your boss about the personality issues and see if some accommodations can be made. Some people may be clueless about how they come across and may welcome the feedback. (You’ll have to be the judge of that.)
- Talk to someone in HR confidentially (if that is possible). Perhaps the HR person can speak anonymously to the boss or, if that’s not possible, maybe transfer you to some other group or department within the company.
- If all else fails and you’re not gonna take it anymore, here’s your theme song. Dust off that resume and look for another job. (Just hold onto your paycheck while you are looking.) Also, if you have a side hustle—and hopefully you do —you can use that to fall back on if necessary.
3. Onerous company culture and policies:
This one is a bit tougher to manage, because you can’t realistically change either one. You might try to provide feedback or input about this or that company policy, but don’t hold your breath for the memo announcing new company-wide changes. Your choice is to either grin and bear it (if there are other redeeming qualities about the job) or look for something else.
4. Dislike of co-workers:
You have just a few good choices when dealing with co-workers who are impossible to work with. You can either ignore them outright by trying to work around them or you can try to confront the person and see if there are “tweaks” that can be done to make your working relationship better. Going to talk to your boss about another co-worker is risky. The boss might really like that other person, which means you could be viewed as whiny or not able to get along with other people. If the situation is intolerable, you can consider asking to be switched to another group or department or, yup, look for a better job. (But don’t expect every other place to be all roses and puppies either.)
Pay attention to culture when you are interviewing (if you can). The job won’t bend to you, so if it’s not a fit, don’t take it. If someone is condescending or just ignorant, do you want to wake up every day to work there?
5. Insignificant job functions:
If you feel as though your work is not important enough for you, the first thing to do is to think about where your job functions fit in to the larger picture from a company standpoint. Sometimes what seems as though an insignificant, routine, dry function can actually be vital to the success of the much larger company goals. Looking at your job responsibilities this way may help you feel better about the role you play in the greater picture.
If that doesn’t change how you feel about your job functions, you should honestly assess whether you think your skill set could be put to better use in some other capacity at that company. If your company has an internal jobs listing, take a look and see if there are other positions you might want to apply for. It’s usually easier to get a job from within the company than as an outsider. If your employer doesn’t post open positions, keep your eyes open for other departments or functions you might want to switch into (or maybe even create a new job yourself and pitch it to the right people). Find someone you can trust at the company to talk to about this. (Another manager from a different department?) If you like the company but think you could be happier in some other role there, try to make that work.
6. Underpaid and underappreciated:
If you find out from your co-workers or by looking at estimates of comparable salaries on Glassdoor that you are being grossly underpaid, you have really just a few options:
- Ask for a raise: Gather your facts on comps at other companies within your industry and geographical area (or even at similar positions in other industries in your area, although be aware of industry norms as to compensation). At the right time—either during an annual review or some other time when you can talk with your supervisor or a trusted person at HR—raise (no pun intended) the topic by presenting the facts you’ve gathered. It would also help to have kept notes of your accomplishments during the year so that you can be prepared to present those to bolster your case. Don’t be afraid to ask for more money. Your employer may just be taking advantage of your good nature and paying you less than they are ready and willing to pay. Squeaky wheels get oiled. Consider asking for a little more than you want so that there is room to negotiate.
- Put up with it and earn less than you are worth (not a good long-term strategy).
- Stay where you are but put your job-hunting mode into high gear. When the right position comes along, consider asking for more money. You might be surprised at how much more some prospective employers are willing to pay to new hires if they only ask. (BUT, just know that this method isn’t a guarantee either. It also could be risky, so you have to judge the culture and the situation yourself, and use your judgment.)
If you are feeling unappreciated:
- Don’t sit around waiting for a gold star or a trophy for everything you do. The workplace isn’t second grade. On the other hand, if your boss never seems to notice all the good work you do or the good ideas you have, try to make it easier to get noticed. Put your ideas in writing in an email to your boss (and maybe cc’ed to others?) to document the conversations.
- If the culture is receptive and you want feedback that you’re not getting, don’t be afraid to just ask for it. Just remember (in some cases) to be careful what you wish for.
- Before any annual reviews or ongoing performance discussions, gather any notes you’ve been taking of your major accomplishments so that you can come prepared to advocate for yourself.
7. Long hours/no work-life balance:
At some workplaces, the long hours are just part of the culture. If you are in one of those environments, you have to ask yourself whether the compensation . . . compensates (see what we did there?) for the long hours. This is, of course, a personal decision. Earning a lot of money has its benefits, to be sure, but you have to have some balance in your life as well. If you love the work you are doing, that also can help ease the pain of such long hours. If you do not enjoy signing your waking life over to an employer, no matter what the benefits, then it’s resume time.
8. Unreasonable demands:
It’s a good sign when multiple people or departments want you to do work for them. (The flip side, of course, is a red flag that you are just not needed at that company.) Even so, if you are having projects and deadlines and tasks and . . . thrown at you with no end in sight, and there’s no realistic way to get all those functions done well and on time, then you may have to call for a time-out. Some people in that situation may say (only half-jokingly): “Do you want it done right or do you want it done fast. You can’t have both.” That usually gets the point across that the demands are unreasonable and need to be pulled back.
ON THE OTHER HAND, just make sure that your comments aren’t misconstrued by your boss as being based in laziness or lack of caring about the job or the company. There’s a delicate walk between tolerating unreasonable demands and asking for less work. Make sure you know how your comments will be interpreted before you speak up.
Another way to handle having too much work piled on with overlapping deadlines (in some cases by different managers who have no idea what else you are working on) is to present the tasks and time constraints to the two bosses and ask them to prioritize the deadlines. (Let them fight over you.)
9. Working conditions:
Not every office setting will be like working at the Google campus, but nobody should be working in a sweatshop either. If the working conditions are intolerable, you need to speak up or leave. If there are smaller issues that are not to your liking, you should also feel free to speak your mind to the right people and try to have changes made. At the end of the day, everything is a matter of choices. If you love the work you do, but the office is not up to snuff, it’s your call to choose to stay or find something else.
10. Not a good fit:
If you feel as though the job is not a good match for you, chances are your boss sees that, too. You should keep the paycheck coming in, but start looking seriously for another position. If the pay is a lot more than you could earn elsewhere, then you have to weigh the financial need against your happiness factor. At the end of the day, all we have on this earth is time. You need money to enjoy that time, but you also need to be enjoying each day along the way.
Disliking your job shouldn’t be a national pastime. Dreading Mondays shouldn’t be a weekly ritual. If your day-to-day existence is overtaken by job fatigue or disdain for your job, you owe it to yourself to take steps to get into a situation where you can sustain the lifestyle you want AND also find satisfaction (and it’s not too much to ask for happiness either) in your chosen field. Although the job market ebbs and flows, there are usually other positions out there. (Just don’t leave one job before you have another one. That paycheck still needs to come in the door to pay the bills.)
For many people, there comes a time when they step back and ask themselves if the work situation they are in is the healthy, positive experience that it should be. You shouldn’t have to settle for something that is taking up roughly one-third of your day, every day, every week, every month, every year if you really hate your job. Find something that you love (or at least like) (or at least don’t hate). Everyone can reinvent themselves.