How to Handle a Job You Hate in a Bad Economy

How do you feel about your job? Are you barely tolerating it — or worse, do you just plain hate it?

If so, you are in good company. Depending on the survey you read, sixty to eighty percent of Americans are dissatisfied with their work. That is a startling statistic. The vast majority of us are unhappy with our jobs. And our jobs consume the vast majority of our time. So one must conclude that most people are dissatisfied or downright unhappy much of the time. Ouch.

There has been some improvement in the overall jobless rate in this rough economy, but not enough to foster a sense that there are jobs a-plenty out there. Most of us don't have the comforting conviction that if we walked away from our job, there would be dozens of opportunities waiting at the doorstep.

You have to wonder if a sense of being trapped contributes to the general malaise around career satisfaction. When it seems as though you have no options, life takes on a hopeless quality that evolves into a general aura of unhappiness.

Fear is likely the primary culprit in this spiral of dissatisfaction and hopelessness.

In a bad economy, fear breeds like wild rabbits. You hear bad reports on the news about layoffs and jobless rates. Your co-workers and friends discuss the latest buzz about someone close who has been job hunting for months. You have family to support, bills to pay and maybe some debt that is hovering around.

So you might think, “I can't leave this job. I might never get another job. I hate this job and now I'm trapped. But what if they fire me?”

You've gone round and round about it in your mind, and you keep coming to the same distasteful and futile conclusion. You are stuck, and there's no way to get unstuck. Your job begins to feel like an albatross.

So here's another question for you. If the fear disappeared, would you feel less hopeless?

And if you felt less hopeless, would you be happier? Let's run with that assumption and see what happens. How could you lessen or remove the fear altogether?

Here's the answer: action.

With any problem or worry in life, once you take action, fear begins to dissipate. Think about making a big speech. You might fret over it and feel anxiety for hours or even days before you present it. But as you practice it, gain mastery over the material, and then start making the speech, the fear usually goes away. Or at least it's manageable.

When you have fear around your job, there are many layers of emotion to address because so much is at stake. It's your livelihood after all, and losing it could impact every aspect of your life. It may feel like you don't have much wiggle room, but you have more control over the situation than you  might think.

Here are some ways to take action, regain control, and start to remove fear from the equation:

1. Assess your financial situation. Carefully review your current finances to get an accurate picture of your debt, your assets, your monthly expenses, and your income. If you have debt, implement a plan for paying it off as quickly as possible. Find ways to reduce your expenses and think about selling some assets that you can do without for the time being. One of the best books on getting out of debt and budgeting is Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover.

2. Prepare for the worst and build a reserve. If you lost your job, do you have enough money to live on for a year? If not, start building a reserve. Cut back on expenses and start saving as much money as possible. Can you take on a short-term moonlighting job or project? This doesn't have to be forever, but as you are building a financial reserve, you also are building your confidence that you can survive, even if the worst happens.

3. Analyze your job. Take a good, hard look at your current job. Write down all of the aspects of your job that you really hate, those that you are just tolerating, and those that you like. Be as detailed as possible. For the areas of your job you really hate, write down every possible action you could take to improve the situation, even if you think it's an improbable action.

4. Look at yourself first. Ask yourself how you might be contributing to the difficult areas through your attitude or aptitude. What can you change about yourself that might improve the situation? Can you choose to shift your attitude? Do you have behaviors or defenses that offend those around you? Do you need to strengthen certain skills? Take action to change these things about yourself. Here's a great article about emotional intelligence in the workplace. Also check out Daniel Goleman's book on the same topic.

5. What else can you change? Once you are working on yourself, there may be other things you can address about your job that will improve the situation and make it more tolerable.

  • If your boss is the problem, consider initiating a non-judgmental conversation about how you can work better together. Consider discussing the issues you have with your human resources counselor if you have one. Discuss options with a coach or trusted friend.
  • If you have too much on your plate and work too many hours, force yourself to take the time to handle this. Delegate what you can and learn to live with satisfactory instead of perfect.
  • Do you not have the skills or training you need to do your job well? Ask your boss to give you time to update your skills. If that's not possible, research training options that you can handle after work hours. Build your confidence about your abilities.
  • Whatever the problem is, spend the time to brainstorm possible solutions and take action on those you can without jeopardizing your job.

6. Figure out what you really want to do. Take some time to reassess your passions and career goals. You may not be able to change jobs now, but that could change in the future. Take some assessment tests and start researching careers that interest you. Try this free career assessment. Want some ideas for different types of jobs out there? Here's a list of 12,000 jobs.

7. Start looking for another job. It may be a bad economy, but that doesn't mean that you can't find another job. Get your resume updated and well-written. Here's a good resume resource for you. Also, here's a great article on how to find a job while you still have one. Start looking at what's out there and build some momentum and excitement around making a change.

8. Determine your optimum work/life balance. As you take the time to reassess your current job or to plan for another one, determine the kind of lifestyle you really want. Do you want more time for family, friends and hobbies? Could you work in a less demanding job or field? Could you accommodate your lifestyle to making less money? Evaluate what is most important to you for this time in your life. You may not be able to have it all right now, but you can have what is most valuable to you.

9. Focus on gratitude and positive thinking. I know this sounds like a platitude, but shift your mindset from complaining and frustration to gratitude. Focus on those things about your job that are positive. When you find your mind slipping into a cycle of worry and negative thinking, force yourself to break the cycle and place your thoughts on gratitude. Spend your morning drive visualizing positive interactions or see yourself in a job that you love. Turn off the news and read uplifting books and articles that keep your thoughts elevated. Regularly practice positive thinking and positive feeling will follow.

Don't just accept your situation. Do something. Take action. By taking control of your unhappiness about your job, you will feel less fearful. If you feel less fearful, you won't feel so hopeless or helpless. When you have hope, you open your mind to positive thinking, creative solutions and new opportunities. You can change the situation, and today is the day to start!


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 6 comments
  • Jean Sarauer

    Action is the best antidote to fear I’ve ever found. While living in the moment and meditating also work wonders, taking small, intentional steps in a more desirable direction is a direct route to empowerment.

  • Thekla Richter

    Love the article Barrie! Especially your emphasis on taking action and focusing on the aspects of your situation that you can control. When struggling with a job you don’t like, I think that feeling helpless is the worst part of it.

    I would suggest someone in this situation also set aside a block of time at least weekly to spend on job hunting, to make sure that actively working on the problem takes priority in their use of time. Sunday morning is often a good time for this for people who work standard Mon-Fri weeks. Many people who are stressed about their jobs get anxious or depressed on Sundays and lose half their weekend to focusing on how close Monday is. Harnessing that energy into working on the problem, and then hopefully doing something enjoyable afterwards for the rest of the day, can really help with the Sunday blues.

    I’d also suggest being careful to take truly meaningful breaks during the day while working. Don’t just mess around on the internet or talk with a coworker you’re friendly with. Go for a walk, listen to some music, write in a journal, have lunch with someone you REALLY like (from your office or not)… do something that will give you some relaxation, pleasure and a change of pace.

  • Barrie Davenport

    Thank you so much for your comments Jean and Thekla!
    Thekla, that’s a great idea about using Sundays for action steps rather than sitting in fear about Monday morning. Wonderful!
    And I like the idea of using work day breaks for something really meaningful. In fact my last blog post was on using 10 minutes blips of time for meaningful, good Karma activities.

    Best to you both,

  • Justin Dixon

    Great resource Barrie, I’m going to take the assesment now.

  • Barrie Davenport

    Cool Justin! Let me know what you find out about yourself. Thanks for being a consistent commenter.


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