I’d like to say there’s a bittersweet beauty in staying in a job you hate. That it shows an admirable display of resistance and strength to stay working in a role that is wrong and a workplace that slowly drains you of everything you have. But I would be lying. Staying and surviving an unhappy job is dreadful and soul-destroying, no matter how much you might like to romanticise it.
But, as almost every working person will know, it’s not that simple to leave the job you hate. Everyone needs an income, and if, for now, the terrible job is your only source of such, it’s not really an option to quit. So how do you survive it? How do you keep going, even if the very thought of getting up on Monday morning makes your stomach turn?
I want to share my tips for surviving an unhappy job. But more than that, I also want to highlight the impact of an unhappy job on you, your lifestyle and your mental health – raising awareness of just how difficult it can be to keep going when your day-to-day is so dreadful.
1. Identify the unhappiness.
This could almost come as a pre-cursor to the survival guide, as it can help you to focus entirely on what it is you both hate, and like, about your workplace. Is it the people? The annoying colleagues? The location or the commute? The endless workloads, or the endless boredom? Perhaps it’s a manager you just can’t stand, or an industry you’ve never ever shown an interest in. Or maybe it’s everything – from the 9am starts, to the 5pm finishes. But I should say, this is a survival guide for those people who have tried to improve their workplace. Everyone in every single workplace should have the opportunity to speak up about issues that are making them unhappy, and it should be in the company’s best interest to try and resolve them. So if you’ve raised your issues, and tried your best to make it work – keep reading.
2. Accept it.
Much like the process of grief, the acceptance of an unhappy job is one of the most important steps to survival. Trying to fight the unhappiness for so long can be just as draining as the workplace itself, so don’t force yourself into false job satisfaction. It can be distressingly disassociating to pretend to be something, or like something, that you genuinely, truly don’t, and will not help you in the long run. Accept your situation, rationalise it, and verbalise it – I am unhappy in my job. It’s not the end of the world to dislike your workplace, and it’s a lot more common than you might think. Don’t stress, just accept.
3. Don’t clock watch – project watch.
Clock watching is the worst possible hobby for an unhappy worker. Counting down the hours and minutes until home time is an entirely pointless exercise that only serves to enhance your detachment from the place you work. So instead of clock watching, start watching your projects. Pay so much attention to the work you’ve been given that it becomes impossible to draw yourself away from it. Find ways to make that project bearable and enjoyable – whether it’s sticking in some headphones and listening to an audio book as you work, mentally writing the next chapter of that book you’ve been planning or just playing a little game of goals and targets with yourself. There are always ways to improve your work tasks, even if you have to get a little creative to find them.
4. Find your side hustle
A side hustle is every unhappy worker’s biggest motivator. We work our 9 til 5s to make our dreams happen, until our dreams because our 9 til 5. We’re supporting ourselves and putting ourselves through the long hours, awkward workplace banter, stressful tasklists and hellish bosses to survive our leap into the hustle. Everyone has a dream they’re working for – or at least everyone should. A side hustle is there to remind you why you go to work, why you put in the hours, why you’re so desperate to earn that paycheck. It’s the work that makes you happy, but you just need to do some work that makes you unhappy first to make it stick. And, if you need to go full Homer Simpson, and create your own version of a ‘Do It for Her’ poster, then do it. Anything to get you through the day.
5. Re-evaluate time
One of the most important things you can do when stuck in an unhappy work place is evaluate your time. Your working day is only a small portion of your overall day, so make sure you get the most out of the time you have free. Cancel work socials if you don’t want to go, don’t offer to do overtime – if your mental health needs you to take the evening to yourself, do it. Try and find activities you love to entertain your evenings – bowling, Netflix, swimming, a fancy dinner out, whatever makes you happy. This is your day, and these are the activities that make you who you are. Your terrible job is not you, you are your hobbies, your interests, your side hustle. Everything else just pays the bills, and you’re surviving it. You can do this, just one day after another, one hour after another, one foot in front of the other, and then you can become you again. Remember that.
6. Take note of how bad it is
Don’t even ignore your own internal warning signs when you’re stuck in an unhappy situation. A miserable job can have a seriously, and often long lasting impact on your mental health and can affect how you live your day to day life. Make sure you pay attention to what your mind is telling you when things get bad. If you’re feeling any of the following symptoms or signs because of a bad workplace, it’s time to seek help:
- Feeling hopeless, like nothing better will ever happen
- Feeling angry and frustrated on a daily basis
- Feeling depressed, even when out of working hours
- Feeling anxious, panicked or sick at the thought of going into work
- Losing your appetite, or overeating to deal with your stress
- Feeling broken or damaged by the average working day
- Feeling suicidal, or like hurting yourself if the only way to cope
If your job is getting you down, it can cast a truly awful shadow over your entire life, not just the working week. But if your cloud is beginning to creep into your weekends, your holidays, your happy moments and your private moments…it’s time to start thinking about some new options.
However, if you know you can stick it out in your terrible workplace for a little while longer, try following these tips, and keep surviving for as long as it takes. You’ve got this.