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From Misery to Meaning: 6 Steps To Take When You Hate Your Job

The Leaving Economy

March 8, 2023

In late October, we published a podcast episode titled, “I Hate My Job, But Don’t Know What to Do” (Apple & Spotify). There wasn’t anything inherently special about this episode. In fact, this episode didn’t receive much fanfare when it was first released. It didn’t even crack the top 10 for us in 2022 when we produced an episode highlighting the most downloaded episodes of the year. Fast forward two months and this episode is by far the most downloaded in the history of our show.

To be honest, I’m not sure where this is coming from. I can’t find any references to it in major publications or referrals from popular websites. It just is. Day after day this episode lands in our top three most downloaded episodes. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and have some theories:

  • The ability to work from home has masked a lot of discontent. After all, even if you hate your job, not having to drive to the office, being able to run errands during the day and having more control over your schedule mask a lot of ills. As companies pushed employees to return to the office, people are forced to reckon with the realities of their job.
  • As the new year dawns, it’s a natural reflection point to assess the various areas of our life. We come out of the holidays with a fresh new year, ripe with opportunity. Many people, in their self-reflection, have realized there’s a misalignment between their current reality and where they want to be.
  • Many companies’ compensation seasons land in February and March. Pay raises, promotions and bonuses. For many who may be considering changing jobs, the carrot of an attractive bonus is enough to stay put in their current job … for now. For others, receiving the news of yet another small pay increase or non-promotion is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
  • This one may be wishful thinking on my part, but it feels like we’re experiencing a cultural shift around work and money. Younger Millennials and Gen-Z see the world differently than the older generations. It’s less about money and more about finding meaning and fulfillment. For many that I have the pleasure of serving, this one has become continually more prominent over the last few years. People are searching for something different, and it’s translating into job changes.

You're not alone if you fall into the “I hate my job” camp. According to ongoing Gallup studies, approximately 70% of Americans dislike or hate their jobs. That’s a staggering statistic. Gallup recently reported that nearly 50% of Americans are actively searching for new work. That’s staggering. So no, you aren’t alone!

However, it’s not enough to know we hate our job and simply bathe in our misery and self-pity. As you think about your situation, I have a few helpful steps to consider:

  1. Make a decision you WILL leave your job (probably not today, but soon). Nothing can happen if leaving isn’t on the table. This one sounds simple, but it isn’t. Change is hard, and no matter how bad your current job is, the fear of the unknown is oftentimes worse than any reality you’re currently experiencing.
  2. Determine what you hate so much about your current job. Is it the work? The company? Our colleagues? Management? The answer to this question can help you discern if you need to change teams, departments, companies or industries. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The answers to this question will fundamentally impact what decision you need to make. These aren’t always easy questions to answer. This may be a great time to bring in a trusted friend or mentor. Having another person in the conversation can reveal our blind spots.
  3. Determine what you enjoy/love about your current job. There’s probably something about it that interests and/or fulfills you. Even in the worst of jobs, there are pieces you may enjoy or find fulfilling. Identify what those things are, and make special note of them for when you start searching for the next thing.
  4. Be honest with yourself about what passions/interests you have. Most people have passions, but then quickly set them aside because those things “don’t pay the bills.” Therefore, our natural inclination is to find work that is incongruent with our passions. It’s possible to have your cake and eat it, too … if you’re willing to put your interests/passions on the table.
  5. Find a way to combine your skills and passions in a profitable way. By “profitable,” I’m not referring to you becoming the next Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. Rather, profitable means you earn the right to do it again next month, and the month after and the month after that. It’s easier said than done, but it’s absolutely worth it!
  6. Do it! Yes, it’s scary. Yes, change is hard. Yes, it’s worth it. If you’ve come this far in the process and you’ve successfully discovered the answers to the questions above, it may be time to act on it.

Tips for Employers

Business leaders, what about you? On the surface, this reality and these recommended steps seem challenging, but here’s my encouragement to you. This isn’t something to be scared of. In fact, I believe it should be the opposite. If people are discontent, frustrated and ready for something new, YOU may be exactly what they are looking for. YOU may be the answer to their situation!

Sure, you may lose some people during this process, but that can be healthy for any organization. If someone doesn’t believe in their job or feel invested in the work, their leaving is addition by subtraction. Instead of trying to hold onto those people, you have the opportunity to wave in and welcome the next pool of talent. People who are ready to engage, contribute and pursue work that matters. Let that be you and your organization!

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Travis Shelton

Travis Shelton is the host of the Meaning Over Money podcast, speaker and professional financial coach, helping families and businesses navigate the tension between the world's way and a better way. He works with a wide range of clients who are ready to redefine the role money plays in their life. Listen to his podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.