Do you hate your job? A lot of people do, maybe even the majority. I remember Ken, a former co-worker of mine who was nearly 40 years my senior. Ken was a curmudgeonly man with a full head of silver-gray hair, black horn-rimmed glasses, and a wicked sense of humor. He had worked in the auto parts business for many years, putting in time at a factory that manufactured spark plugs.
Unfortunately, within a few years of his retirement, Ken was unceremoniously let go from his company, along with many others. He lost a big chunk of his retirement package in the process. I can imagine that Ken spent a good deal of time feeling depressed and discouraged by his situation. But if so, he did a good job of hiding it. He always had a lot of things to say that I found interesting, amusing, or just plain hilarious.
The Shoe Shifts to the Other Foot – Mine
I remember one particular day when we were working together. It was my turn to be in a sour mood that afternoon. I don’t recall the exact details. But I do recall that I was grumbling out loud about the way things were going at our job. Why certain computer software programs weren’t working, why certain issues were not being addressed, etc. I was not in a good state of mind. I looked up from my computer screen to see what he had to say.
With a look of total disgust and contempt on his face, Ken glared at me with an unusually hostile look. He slammed down the stack of papers sitting on his desk as loud as he could. Without missing a beat, said without hesitation:
“Steve, there is no such thing as a good job! If it’s a good job, it’s called ‘a hobby’!”
Within the time frame of a couple seconds, a moment of heightened tension dissolved into smiles and laughter. I was certainly grateful he didn’t chew me out, which is what I probably deserved for my negative attitude!
What Exactly Defines a Good Job?
My exchange with Ken has reverberated with me through the years. This has continually raised questions for me:
How exactly do we define what a “good” job is? Is it high hourly rates and salaries? Is it a good benefits package? Having friendly and helpful co-workers? A boss who can guide and criticize in a constructive manner?
However we define it, it has been obvious for quite some time that most people, especially here in the United States, don’t feel they have a “good” job. In fact, the numbers are quite discouraging and daunting. For example, a 2016 poll by Pew Research found that 49 percent of Americans were “very satisfied” with their jobs.
However, dig a little deeper and the level of happiness varies: those making over $75,000 a year claim a “job satisfaction” rate of 59 percent, while only 39 percent of those making under $30,000 feel the same way. People with lower incomes and lower levels of education are three times more likely to say they are “not too happy with their lives”.
Another interesting tidbit: those who work for government, non-profit organizations, or who are self-employed. They’re all far more likely to report that their employment “gives them a sense of identity”. This is in sharp contrast to people who work for private companies. Those are more likely than not to state that their job “is just what they do for a living.”
Statistics Show that You Hate Your Job
Gallup has its own set of numbers to describe how we feel about work. Their annual report, “State of the American Workplace,” claims that only 33 percent of American workers would describe themselves as “actively engaged” with their workplaces – people who enjoy their jobs and feel like they are making a meaningful contribution – while 51 percent define themselves as “not engaged”, while the remaining 16 percent are “actively disengaged.”
Why do so many people dislike their work so much?
Sometimes I think that many of us feel like we’re at the mercy of forces beyond our control. Many of us feel like we don’t have input as to how things should be done. Or maybe we’re just bored with doing the same thing over and over again. Many of have to deal with co-workers and bosses on a day-to-day basis more than with our own family and friends.
Art Imitating Life
One of my all-time favorite comedy shows is the 1990s Canadian cult favorite “Kids in the Hall.” There is one particular skit that remains one of my personal all-time favorites: “Each Day We Work.”
Two men, Grigolt and Previn, are shoveling coal into a furnace. Previn is on the verge of desperation, acting out in rather dramatic fashion. At the same time, it’s hard to tell if Grigolt is relentlessly optimistic, in total denial, or just trying to make the best out of a dire situation. For those of you who feel stuck in a monotonous, dead-end job, this one’s for you:
Dark humor aside, it appears that most people dislike their jobs for major and well-known reasons. These include – but not limited to:
- Spending too much time on tasks we hate doing, and too little on tasks we would enjoy doing.
- Not having the tools and/or resources to do our job well.
- Constant criticism and/or nitpicking from supervisors, managers, and other higher-ups.
- Overburdened by high workloads and unrealistic expectations.
- Co-worker drama, gossip, rumor-mongering
- Engaged in work that is not a “good fit” for our personal character.
- Belief that the rewards are not worth the effort.
Finding Your Way Forward
If you find yourself stuck in a hellish job with these kinds of situations, what can you do?
It’s important to think long-term about what you might want to do differently. Certainly looking at ways to become self-employed would solve a lot of the above issues, although there are other matters to take into consideration.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are your personality and character better suited to another work environment?
- Are you better suited for work that involves a lot of routine, or would you be more satisfied with a variety of tasks?
- Would you like to be physically active on the job, or would you prefer something more sedentary and get your workout elsewhere?
- Would you prefer to work alone, or with a small group of people, or with the general public?
In future columns, we will see what tools are available online that can hopefully answer some of these questions.
Making the Best of a Bad Situation
In the meantime, if you’re stuck a bad job, what kinds of “coping strategies” can you employ right now to alleviate some of the pressure and unhappiness you’re facing?
Listen to music while you work.
Obviously this may not be possible or practical, depending on your work environment. But if you can swing it, it’s amazing how much more bearable your job can feel if you have something pleasant to listen to. It might even be able to spark your creative energies and help you come up with new ideas as you try to figure out what to do next in your life.
Go outside and get some fresh air and exercise on your breaks.
No, you absolutely don’t have to engage in intense workouts. But if you have a job primarily sitting down, you can do yourself a lot of good by going outside and go for a brisk walk, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. It’s a good opportunity to “de-compress” and clear your head. Even better, if you can do it with a group of like-minded co-workers you can vent to!
Conversely, if you have a job where you’re on your feet all the time, take some time to sit down and re-energize.
If you’re on your feet constantly and running around, remember to give yourself a break and relieve yourself from the craziness every now and then. It’s easy to fall into the trap that you should go “full bore” the entire time. But you’re really cheating yourself and you’re more likely to become less focused and productive as time goes by.
Also make sure to drink plenty of water! Getting dehydrated on the job can happen easily and have a real negative impact on your performance both physically and mentally.
Take a look at your personal finances and determine how much longer you want to tough it out.
Are you blowing through your entire paycheck every week without saving anything? If you are, that can make getting out of an awful job more challenging. It’s easier to search for another job while you already have a job. But if you have money saved and are absolutely miserable, can you afford to quit while you look for something else? Or reduce your working hours? How long could you afford to pay your bills if you had no income coming in?
Could you reduce, or eliminate some of those bills in order to get ahead of the curve? Can you change your living situation in order to save money? Adjust your eating habits? Eliminate any other expenses that really aren’t necessary right now?
If you have wiggle room, you might feel less enslaved to your current situation.
If you can’t afford to quit, ask if you can get demoted.
Wait, what? Yes, you read me right. Sometimes, asking for a voluntary demotion might be the right thing to do, depending on your situation. Yes, you will take a cut in pay, but you might also cut out a lot of stress, headaches, and hassles. And, maybe more important, the office politics that are doing nothing but grinding you down.
Don’t forget to practice acts of kindness and generosity with your co-workers, even when it’s difficult.
I have a co-worker who occasionally gets irritable at me when he’s in a bad mood. I usually poke fun at him for being “hangry” with me (yes, being angry and hungry at the same time is a real thing!). When I offer to get him something to eat, he always perks up and becomes much more pleasant to be around.
Sometimes we may be put off by co-workers with “bad attitudes”. But sometimes they may also be dealing with the exact situations and difficulties at their job as you are, and they’re not handling it well. Showing a little understanding and commiseration might be all they need to make their (and your!) workday a littlemore bearable.
How about you, fellow workers? Do you have other work situations that grind you down? What other strategies have worked for you?