What To Do If Your Job Makes You Unhappy

Nobody’s job is perfect. Just like anything in life, there are ups and downs. You might have occasional work days that make you unhappy, but as long as they are occasional, that’s just a normal part of life. However, being chronically unhappy with your job is another story. A 2014 report found that a majority of Americans (52.3%) were chronically unhappy at work. This means you have a good chance of being one of them. Your overall health and wellness is largely impacted by the way you spend your time, and given that most of us spend a lot of time working, it’s important to be generally happy with our jobs.

Start Looking At Your Career As A Relationship

Traditionally, the “a job is a job” notion was the go-to retort for anyone complaining about their daily work. The idea that you’re getting paid to do something, and that you should feel lucky to even be employed when so many others are not isn’t without warrant. However, your career is a huge part of your wellness, and here’s why: the average American spends over a quarter of their life working and commuting to work. That’s a lot. And that is why you should view your job as you would view a close relationship with another human being.

Maybe you once dated someone who was a wonderful person, caring and attentive, but they didn’t share any of your passions and you knew you could never be happy with them. Maybe you once had to ditch a close friend because they were emotionally abusive and showed no interest in improving. Almost everyone has dealt with a close friend or family member who always takes a mile when you give them an inch, and you’re the one putting in all the effort with very little return from their end. And then there’s those relationships that get way too intense way too soon; the other person’s expectations just aren’t the same as yours, and it’s not something you can maintain over the long term.

If you start to look at your job as a relationship, you’ll start to see that it’s not just about getting paid to do something. Gaining distance from these types of people is a crucial aspect of maintaining your happiness, which is a crucial aspect of your overall wellness. There are a whole spectrum of reasons why you would want to end a relationship with someone, and these can all be applied to your job as well.

If you feel like your employer is taking advantage of you, or like you have to deal with coworkers that treat you like garbage consistently, that is quite similar to a volatile relationship with someone who probably shouldn’t stay in your life. Maybe you really love the company you work for, and have a pleasant relationship with a majority of your colleagues, but the work you do just isn’t fulfilling, or doesn’t allow you to exercise your talents and interests at all. Maybe you somehow ended up with a job that you’re not qualified for, and the expectations are too overwhelming for you to keep up your end. Just like there are many valid reasons to break up with a partner, there are many valid reasons to break up with a career.

Everyone has that distant relative who is a real jerk, or that friend of a friend who is just negative and down in the dumps all the time. There’s even that significant other of a friend who is perfectly nice, but has nothing in common with you. These people are not an invasive part of your life, so you can deal with them on the few occasions they come around. You’re never going to get through life without having to deal with negative, mean, or volatile people--but you definitely shouldn’t allow them to become close to you, because that would give them an opportunity to have a large impact on your overall happiness.

Yes, everyone is going to have a few coworkers they can’t stand, but as long as they’re distant they won’t be able to do more than ruin an occasional day of yours. Yes, everyone is going to have to do a few things they don’t really like, and have a few unpleasant conversations with their boss, but as long as they aren’t a regular occurrence, they don’t have the power to affect your life as a whole.

However, once those negative feelings you have about work start to bleed into your free time, or they become an invasive aspect of the time you do spend at work, it’s time to look at your job the same way you’d look at a person who you’ve allowed to become a huge part of your life.

You wouldn’t let your significant other talk to you as if you were a child in front of your peers. You wouldn’t let your best friend consistently ignore you until she wanted something from you. You wouldn't want to stay with someone who could never enjoy your hobbies and interests with you, even if they were a catch, and you certainly don’t want to stay in a friendship where you’re not on the same page and the other person’s goals and expectations for the relationship are far above your own.

So, why would you stay at a job that you had similar feelings about? You know that your happiness is largely affected by those you allow into your daily life, and given the large portion of time you spend working, you shouldn’t allow your job to creep in as one of those awful relationships that destroys your health and happiness.

So what’s next?

Start Looking At Your Options

If you find yourself in a place where a career change might be necessary to improve your overall health and happiness, there are a few steps you should take to make sure you make the right decisions at the right time. The very first thing you should do: ask yourself if you need a vacation. It is completely possible that you are feeling burnt out or frustrated because you’re not getting the rest and relaxation you need. Even those who have their dream jobs can find that their health is negatively affected by not taking regular vacations. Americans are some of the least likely people in the world to actually use all of the paid time off they’re allotted, despite the benefits of a good vacation. Psychologist Francine Lederer says that vacations have a profound impact on mental health, and result in more motivation to complete goals as well as improved life perspective.

If you haven’t been using up all of your vacation days to do something healing and restorative, that should be where you start. If the break gives you a fresh perspective, maybe a career change isn’t necessary for your health. Maybe you just needed some time away, or maybe there are some positive steps you can take to be more satisfied with your workplace and the work you do. If a holiday doesn’t do the trick, it’s time to move on to the next step.

This is where things get hairy, but also where they get hopeful. Most people do not have the option to quit their job before they’ve found another, and for most, it will take a good amount of time to secure a position that will round out their overall lives. If you happened to fall into the perfect career right out of college or high school, you are in the lucky minority. The rest of us will have to put a good amount of time and effort into figuring out what makes us happy, and may have to invest some of that into educating and improving ourselves to qualify for our dream jobs.

If you are already working in the field that you’ve always wanted and are still unhappy, it’s likely because you’re just working for the wrong company. This might be the easiest issue to deal with, because you’ve already got experience in the field, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding another place to utilize it. It’s time to start a job search, but in this instance, you shouldn’t just toss resumes out willy-nilly. It’s important to research your job prospects before you even apply: look into their company culture to make sure it’s a good fit for you, make sure their business practices aren’t stuck in the stone age, find out if there are opportunities for growth and advancement, look into how they treat their consumers, and lastly, make sure you will be getting paid what you are worth. You’ll definitely want to take the time and effort to avoid falling into another company that will make you miserable.

If it’s looking like it’s not your actual workplace, but the work you do, it may be time for an actual shift. Making a full-on career change is more common than you’d think; in fact, the average adult changes jobs seven times trying to find the perfect fit for them. If you already know what your dream job is, but haven’t taken the steps to secure it yet, it’s time to finally hit the trailhead. This might involve going back to college, enrolling at a trade school, or even just some plain old fashioned research and self-initiated learning. Whatever it is you want to do, take some time and effort to learn about it, and if you’re already well-versed, take some time to learn more so you can have an undeniable competitive edge.

If things are really dire, you might have to consider quitting your current job and sticking it out with a less-than-ideal option until you can gain the skills you need to pursue the ideal. However, you should only consider this if the less-than-ideal options available to you are better than where you’re at now.

If you are simply overwhelmed by what’s expected of you, or somehow have gotten in over your head, it might be a good idea to see if there are any realistic ways to gain the proficiency you need in a timely manner. For instance, you can simply open up and ask about more on-the-job training, or you can see if there are any free online skills training courses that can get you up to par.

And Finally, Consume Responsibly

You might be thinking, “what does this have to do with my happiness?” Well, it doesn’t have much to do with you specifically, but it will make an impact. That statistic I quoted in the beginning of this article (about 52.3% of Americans being unhappy with their jobs) can be affected by what you buy and from whom you buy it. Wouldn’t it be nice if that statistic was merely a matter of 52.3% of people being in the wrong field, and if we could just shuffle them all around, they’d all end up blissful. Unfortunately, this is not likely the case. There’s just no way there are the exact amount of perfect jobs for the interests and passions of everyone who has to work for a living.

We are a consumer culture, and everything we buy creates jobs. We should all be cognizant of this, and be selective about where we spend our money. If you are saddened by the mistreatment of animals, you would get a pet from a rescue shelter and not a puppy mill because you don’t want to support something you don’t believe in. You should take this same approach with your consumption. If you had multiple corporate jobs and just couldn’t stand the stifling, stagnant bureaucracy of corporate culture, don’t spend your money at any corporations. Buying from small, local joints will create the kind of jobs you would want (or at least the kind you wouldn't hate.)

This approach might not help you in the short-term, but it’s definitely a step toward helping yourself, and many others over the long term.

Whatever you decide and wherever you end up will play a huge part in your overall happiness, which will affect your health and wellness for the rest of your life. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to find something that pays what we’re worth to do something we love right off the bat, but pursuing your dreams is definitely worth the effort, no matter how long it takes.

6/13/2022 4:00:00 AM
AJ Earley
Written by AJ Earley
AJ Earley is a personal chef, freelance writer, and a health and wellness enthusiast. She loves travel and the outdoors, DIY projects, and sharing helpful health information. She is always striving to live a healthier and more balanced life.
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