Our team takes about two weeks off at the end of every year and the holiday break gave me a great chance to read a lot of books and to see a lot of friends. Interestingly, a common theme arose out of both—
It seems a ton of people just really don’t like their jobs.
You may even be one of those people.
Curious about the source of all this job hatred, I did some digging. I asked my friends a lot of questions, and here are the primary reasons they gave for their dissatisfaction at work. There’s a good chance you empathize.
— They don’t get along with their bosses
— Their colleagues are difficult to be around
— They’re experiencing a good deal of friction with clients
— They lack confidence or enjoyment in the product they’re working on
— They lack belief in the long-term vision and sustainability of the company
— There isn’t enough time off to recharge
— Their pay isn’t high enough
If anything, hearing all of this helped remind me exactly how much is required for us all to show up and enjoy our work every day. It’s a lot, it’s nuanced, and there’s no silver bullet that helps solve the problems.
But I see a couple of common themes here:
- Someone is getting in your way of being able to do a good job.
Relationships are a major factor, both inside the office (supervisors, colleagues, clients, co-founders) and outside the office (how our work causes our relationships to thrive or struggle, be it family, friendships, or our time for—and investment in—ourselves).
- Something is getting in your way of doing a good job.
Maybe a product you once believed in has taken a turn that doesn’t sit well with you. Or the company has grown so much that you’re no longer able to address challenges directly with your team—you feel a bit less like a human and more like a cog. Or you’re simply burnt out—there’s too much on your plate and there are no easy answers to fix it. Or, the structure of the company itself just doesn’t allow for your growth, higher pay, or better benefits. So, even if you love the people you work with, you feel stuck around what you’re able to do or how you’re able to do it.
And all of this turmoil leads to a lot of things, but two of the primary ones are a lack of energy and lack of morale because you’re just plain exhausted. You’re not only doing the work you’re expected to do, but you’re doing a bunch of extra “work” on relationships or managing other types of “load.” You stop feeling helpful or productive and you lose the “spark” needed to keep you inspired to wake up every day and do it all over again.
So, you start to hate your job.
And what’s the common response when we hit this wall? We become victims. We tell ourselves (and everyone around us) that we can’t leave. We begin to truly believe that there’s nothing else we can do in the entire world, that we have to “stick it out,” at least for the next year, or two, or 10.
Why It’s a Problem
This mentality is so damaging, because hating your job doesn’t only affect you, but a whole host of related parties. Here’s what I mean.
It’s a Problem For You, of Course
We spend so much of our lives (about 30% or 90,000 hours) at work. As you might imagine, that means hating your job has a massive effect on your life overall. And if you don’t like where you work, you’re going to feel—or actually be—unproductive. You aren’t going to feel useful. You truly aren’t going to enjoy life. You’ll feel underconfident because your skills, talents, and abilities aren’t being used. Why does that matter? Most people I know want to be recognized for the unique abilities they have to offer the world. And when they don’t feel like they’re being recognized for their work, they don’t want to continue doing it.
Plus, if you know this feeling, you know that hating your job has ramifications in other areas of your life, too. Your partnerships feel strained, you can feel less connected to or present for your children, and you often aren’t inspired to connect with or invest in your community.
It’s Also a Problem for Your Company
If you’re feeling unproductive or not useful, you’re doing your company a deep disservice. Gallup did a poll a few years back to figure out how much low morale costs U.S. businesses in annual revenue. The answer: $450 to $550 billion per year. That is huge. So you may not feel like you’re hurting anyone other than yourself by being disengaged at work, but there’s a good chance you’re actually hurting your company’s revenue in a big way. Put another way: Imagine someone else in your role who loves it, feels like their skillsets are being deeply utilized, and who is inspired to keep making things better. The difference between someone like that taking over your job and you keeping yours is an actual, quantifiable metric that directly affects how much your company brings in. Now, that may only resonate for some of you. For others, it won’t matter at all because “your company is doing so well that it doesn’t matter how much you work.” So if that doesn’t affect you, then maybe your greater potential impact will. Which brings me to my next point.
Most Importantly, It’s a Problem for the World
While the first two points above seem insular (you’re only hurting yourself and your company if you don’t love your job), I think there’s another very important issue that happens when you don’t find joy in what you do.
At one point in her life, my wife worked in politics at the federal level in Washington, D.C. It was a great job and, to many people looking at her from the outside-in, it was a dream job. But frankly, she would admit that—while she was good at it—she wasn’t truly amazing.
After she left the White House she, fortunately, decided to become a mental health therapist. Now, she finds her job “interesting, comfortable, and very good for her.” When I asked her why she said those things about her current job as a therapist, she explained that it’s “because she’s really good at it.” She gets a lot of feedback on how much people’s lives are changed because of her work.
And that’s exactly what I think about when I reflect on people who are in jobs they don’t like. Yes, they are producing and helping and creating. But they could be doing something that gives them so much more energy, passion, and focus—something that provides so much more to the world than if they remain in their current job. You could be giving your friends, family, neighbors, and the random person sitting next to you so much more than you are today. You could give them access to skills and talents that you’re not tapping into at all right now—but you’re not, because you’re in a job that’s good but not great.
My wife would probably still be doing great work in politics. But her excitement and drive are so much higher being a therapist. And not only is that good for her, but it’s also good for all of the people who come her way.
What to Do About It
So, what can you do, other than play the victim card or continue draining yourself, your company, and the wider community around you?
Make sure that you’re doing what you should actually be doing. I know that there are literally countless books on how to “find your life’s purpose” or “do what you love,” but I’m talking about taking just one simple step. So few people just ask, “What am I particularly good at?”
Ask it to yourself over and over again during the course of a day. Go to a spa, spend some time in the woods, or just set aside a short block of time every morning for a week. Whatever you do, just keep digging into it further.
If you think you’re good at “sales,” dig into that more. What does that mean? Do you like competition and winning? Do you like consistently expecting to hit certain goals?
Or do you like helping people? Which part of it do you like? The idea of solving problems over a long period of time or providing a quick solution? Connecting with people in person or answering customer service emails?
This will take you a long time. Actually, I think you’ll probably end up asking it to yourself multiple times over the course of your life because your answers will likely change over time. That’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. Coming back to it means you’re paying attention to your life and how you want to spend it. There’s one resource, a book, that I’ve found particularly helpful in this process, though, and it’s called “Designing Your Life.” There’s a workbook that goes along with it, too. Big thanks to my partner at GAN Ventures, Reilly, for tipping me off to it in the first place.
If you do find that you’re in the wrong job, do everything that’s within your power to switch. I won’t tell you to flat-out leave, because it’s truly not always an option for everyone—not because they’re playing the victim, but because their circumstances don’t allow it. Not everyone can move on a dime, or take a handful of months without pay to explore what comes next, or risk missing a paycheck that goes to feed their three children. I am aware that job options and access to doing something that’s fulfilling to you are deeply tied up in privilege.
But, when and where you can, get out. As soon as is reasonable.
And if you can’t, or if you think there are other ways to shift your situation, explore those. The answer doesn’t always have to be switching companies. It can also mean switching roles. Maybe find another job at your company that’s a better fit. Not only does that take less risk, but it also tells your boss that you’re invested in the company—you just might need to be used elsewhere. And if that still doesn’t work out, at least they’ll understand that you truly tried. They’ll likely respect your effort and be more supportive when you do end up transitioning out.
If, however, you’re one of the lucky few that finds you’re in the right role, you might just need to work on other issues—ones with your boss, or your colleagues, or your product. Next week, I’ll write about what might help you confront those challenges.
Until then, keep asking good questions and keep exploring what it is you’re here to contribute.