Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning To Love a Job You Hate

For whatever reason – it has great health benefits, you like the location and there’s a really cute programmer who works on the fourth floor – you have made the decision that you’re staying with a job you hate.

It wasn’t an easy decision. People job hop these days faster than Matthew McConaughey can rip off his shirt. But even though you have to drag yourself into work every day, you’re not going to quit. The boss seems to like your work, so there’s not even the chance you might get fired. In fact, you just got a pay raise. Dammit.

That was the last straw. Now you really feel trapped in this job you despise, the job that you began with such great expectations.

To be honest about it, the job wasn’t that bad in the beginning, or even in the middle. It’s just been lately that you’ve come to feel you’re being led to the gallows every time you enter the front door. You look around at others, and they don’t seem to be as miserable as you. Why, you think, are they so darn happy? Why aren’t they mired in the same pit of despair?

You know you’re staying put, but can you survive? Are you just kidding yourself?

The answer is “yes” and “no.” Yes, there is a way to survive, and no, you’re not just kidding yourself.

I speak from experience. I once had a job that I despised so much I used to think about chucking my degree and all my years of hard work and going to work at an IHOP. I envisioned getting pancakes at an employee discount. That seemed like a pretty good alternative to spending my days writing about subjects that were so boring I thought I would lose my mind.

And then, the boss took me out for lunch. I thought I was going to get a scolding for sleeping with my eyes open, but he offered me a lateral move within the company. That didn’t sound so appealing – why would I want to move from one job I hated into something equally as noxious?

But he talked me into it. He didn’t know at the time how bad I hated my job, and how the call of an all-you-can-eat pancake feast was a constant battle. In the end, he persuaded me and I took the new job.

By the end of the first day in the new position, I had been transformed. While I was doing much of the same work, it was different.

I wasn’t bored anymore. It was a new subject, new territory to be conquered. I could feel my sluggish brain begin to re-engage, to fire all cylinders. I met new people, immersed myself in learning new stuff. Within the week, I realized I no longer craved pancakes. I liked the new tasks I was given. And then it hit me: I loved my job.

The lesson: Yes, Virginia, you can learn to love the job you hate.

Here are some tips to get you started:

• Make a list of what you like and don’t like about your job. It’s OK to say you really like the cute programmer or the hours you work, but also think of what tasks you enjoy doing. I always liked writing, but I didn’t like the subject. By changing the focus of my work, it made a world of difference.
• Envision a new way to work. Think about all the things you need to make you like your job again. Would you like a chance to experience something new, such as interacting with others in another department? Receive more recognition from your boss? Get a mentor?
• Structure a plan. Put together some ideas for how you’d like to change your job, the new duties and goals.
• Talk to the boss as soon as possible. Don’t let a manager put you off until a performance appraisal; let the boss know you’ve got a plan you’d like to present. Explain to the boss in a reasonable, conversational tone that you’ve been thinking a lot about your current situation, and you believe you’re ready for some new challenges. Point out your contributions, and how you’re committed to continuing to do a great job. Lay the groundwork about the changes you’d like to make, pointing out the advantages for the company.
• Don’t give up. It may take weeks, even months, for changes to be made. Bosses can be resistant to changing employee duties, not wanting to upset the apple cart. But if you remain professionally persistent, and keep pointing out what a positive move it can be – you may find that reinventing your job was the right move for you.

What are some other ways to find more satisfaction and joy in a job?


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Wayne Hurlbert said...

The first thing is to look inward at why you think you dislike the job. The job dissatisfaction may be a proxy for other things wrong in a person's life. Instead of looking at those problems, the job is easier to blame. Once a person decides to change their own point of view, suddenly the job doesn't look quite as bad.

The next step, as pointed out in the post is to examine the positives of the job and of the workplace. Very often, work areas will be found that are really enjoyed. Every job has unpleasant tasks, but even the worst jobs have some good moments. If there is part of your you really enjoy, it's time for the next step.

Talk to your boss. Arrange a meeting and discuss the job and the parts that you like. Ask if there are some opportunities to add more of the areas and projects you like to the job. The boss may even be looking for just that initiative, and almost all companies have tasks they would love to have someone assume and run with to a successful conclusion.

There may also be opportunities for cross department projects that can generate revenue, provide valuable internal and external contacts, and add more experience to your own personal resume. Those ideas are there for the asking if an employee seeks new challenges actively.

Very often, an attitude change from one of dislike to one of how can I make this job a dream position, and then talking to the boss about possibilities can open doors that were never thought possible. A hated job can become a loved job very easily. As an added bonus, the new happy employee usually gets more money, promtions, and better job evaluations as well.

Anita said...

All excellent points. I think it's important to realize that making even minor tweaks to a job can have a big payoff for everyone. Happier employees are more productive -- and what boss wouldn't love that?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Ian said...

Weird, I have similar pancake cravings (but mine is eating them) when my job is starting to suck, I had those craving for half of last year. I never made the connection, but now it's so clear.

I Agree, sometimes a tweek is all it needs. In my case, I switch departments in the beginning of the year & even though most of the work were similar, I was much happier.

I would also take some time to career plan (not during work) & list out goals, look at why you are staying & figure out what project can motivate you. When I know why I am there & what's next, it does seem to suck much less.

Will Truex said...

I agree.

Often, how we feel is connected with how we LET ourselves feel. You know, the title of this blog entry is a little ominous, but it was actually quite uplifting. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts.