It’s Monday morning and you’re rolling out of bed, not quite ready for another grueling workweek. Dissatisfaction with our jobs has become so widespread that it’s become a cultural cliché.
We’re working for the weekend, dreading Mondays, commiserating with our coworkers around the water cooler. As a coach who specializes in work and lifestyle reinvention, I hear it all. And I’m not buying it.
Yes, there are cases of toxic work environments and “bad bosses,” but for most of us, most often, that’s not the problem. (When it is, it’s time to go). Usually, there is something else at play—something that’s fixable.
Take Joe*, for example, a client I worked with recently. Joe has what many would consider “a good job.” He supports his family well on his salary. He’s worked his way through a couple of promotions and mastered his role. He’s well-respected by his colleagues. But he was miserable and ready to leave.
Likewise, Karen* came to coaching convinced that she could not go one more day into the office. Her stress levels were so high that her health was beginning to suffer. She “knew” that her toxic work environment was to blame.
Neither Joe nor Karen left their jobs. That’s because both came to realize that the job wasn’t what was making them miserable. They were doing it to themselves.
Before you start searching for a better job (and risk ending up back at the same unhappy place), it’s worth considering the assumptions and choices you’re making at work. You, too, might be surprised at how small adjustments can transform your job.
Here are a few places to start:
What’s the story you’re telling yourself about your job? As long as the story you’re telling is how miserable/boring/toxic/unfulfilling your job is, that will be how you experience it. As long as you’re painting your boss or management as the villain, that leaves no room for improving your working relationship. We have a lot of crazy stories about our jobs, so this is a great place to start.
A negative attitude translates into a negative work experience, no matter how engaging the actual work is. The trick is that our brains can tend to see the negative more than the positive, but we can intervene. A good place to start is to track your positive versus negative emotions for a week. That will give you clear data on where you can build in more positivity.
What are you focused on? Office gossip, difficult clients or rumors about potential changes at work? Or the impact your work is having? Remind yourself why you took that job in the first place. What appealed to you? What are you learning? A simple change in focus can transform your job. That’s what Joe discovered when he started tuning out unhappy colleagues and focusing on what he wanted to achieve.
Some professions have more stress built into them than others. Karen worked in a naturally high-stress environment and needed a clear plan on how she was physically and emotionally managing that stress. Does your workplace have a wellness program that you can tap into? Are you carving out time for healthy activities such as meditation, exercise, healthy nutrition and regular breaks? Leaving paid time off on the table while you skip vacations, work while sick and keep late hours is the fast track to burnout.
Maybe you have some legitimate complaints. If so, this is your chance to have an impact on your own happiness—and the happiness of your colleagues. Identify the issues and propose solutions through the appropriate channels. Likewise, if you find your boundaries are being stepped on, it’s your job to say so. Complaining about the problems instead of actively contributing to a solution is all too common—and it’s a recipe for hating your job.
Don’t wait for challenges to be delivered to your desk or for your work to be noticed by higher ups. What types of assignments would challenge you, help you build skill and advance your career? Step up and ask for—or create—those opportunities. Highlight the work that you’re doing and how it advances business goals. That’s what Joe did, and in the end, he didn’t need to leave to find the leadership challenge that he was looking for.
Sometimes, it’s not the job; it’s the environment in which you’re doing the work. Are there adjustments that you can make to enhance your focus, productivity or well-being? Karen, for example, requested a change to a quieter corner of the office, where she could focus without distraction. She also negotiated to work one day from home.
Before you dust off that resume, take a closer look at the complaints you have about your job. Once you know what’s really wrong, you might find that it’s easier to fix than you think.
*Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality
Sally Anne Carroll is a life / career coach for professionals and entrepreneurs who want to re-tool their work, define success on their own terms and design healthy, balanced lifestyles that match their strengths and priorities. She’s a freedom-focused advocate for helping clients reimagine, redefine and reinvent the status quo to achieve their personal vision of success and fulfillment. Sally splits her time between Portland, Oregon, and Christchurch, New Zealand.