What to do if you hate your job

The writer is an associate professor at the London School of Economics, founding director of The Inclusion Initiative and author of ‘Think Big’

There are many reasons why you may hate your job. The tasks are arduous. The pay is shoddy. You might be among the one in 10 people who report being bullied at work. Growth opportunities are limited. The precarious nature of your employment is causing your health to decline. Day to day, it is boring.

Or perhaps you are among the one in five workers who simply wake up every morning not wanting to get out of bed because you are actively disengaged from your work. You may have a niggling feeling that you are wasting your best years, yet don’t know exactly why you feel that way.

Whatever the reason, hating your job is not viable long term. Your mental and physical health will suffer. You need to do something about it. But what?

First, it is important to recognise that no one is going to resolve the problem for you. Many of your colleagues may also be struggling — it’s worth finding out if you are alone, or among like-minded sufferers. Second, don’t quit your job in a moment of despair. No big life decisions should be made in misery.

Instead, start by getting greater clarity about the origins of your hatred for your job. For the next week keep a diary of how you spend your time as you are working, day to day. For each task and meeting, record whether you feel joy, indifference, or misery.

With this information you can identify what it is about your work week that is causing a visceral reaction.

If your audit reveals that you mostly enjoy your weekly tasks, the root of the problem is not the nature of the work you do. Rather, it relates to the conditions of your job. You may be dissatisfied with your pay. Please don’t assume that your manager is noticing your standout performance. They are busy. Instead, ask for the pay rise you deserve.

The outcome of this pay negotiation will help guide you towards your next move. If your request is turned down right away, that gives you something to work with — or against. You may decide to work towards asking again in six months. Or you may decide to leave.

A more likely outcome from the day-to-day task audit is that you identify some occasions when you are joyful, and others where you are miserable. Ask yourself if you have the freedom to “job craft” your current role — in other words, to adapt your work week so that you reduce time allocated to tasks that you dislike. If you have a good relationship with your boss, this is a conversation to have directly.

As a manager, I invite my team to job craft, so their week is mainly loaded up with tasks they enjoy or that enable their growth. If your boss is mediocre, and does not recognise your achievements — or even blocks your progress — you should start asking for more of the projects that you love on a regular basis. Regardless of how you get on with your manager, it is always beneficial to you if you offer to take on jobs they would rather avoid.

Once you have identified the tasks that you enjoy, I would also recommend identifying a side hustle, especially if job crafting is not an option. Amid a cost of living crisis, a side hustle also allows you to generate much-needed additional cash flow — and might even improve productivity in your day job.

Even though side hustling is work, it allows you to spend more of your waking hours engaged in activities that you (one hopes) love. There is no greater insurance policy than diversifying your income streams in a challenging economy. It is even better if your side hustle relates to a role or even a career change that appeals.

If you cannot adapt enough of your workload, it is time to consider moving employers. Begin with the realisation that every outcome in your life is a product of effort and luck. In my experience as a workplace researcher, “luck” is almost always traceable to a colleague or acquaintance — a “loose tie”, not a close friend — who thinks you are talented. Bear in mind that no one will think you are awesome if you are not in their line of sight.

The next step is to leverage your networks. Have coffees, lunches and dinners and put feelers out to your contacts asking for ideas and opportunities. When you meet someone you know through work, it is not the time to complain. Be blunt. Ask for what you need. If your networks are poor, commit to six months of developing your contacts on and offline, so that you can make a proactive start on getting closer to securing a new job.

Do you hate your job because of certain colleagues? Do you love working alone, but suffer in the workplace? If yes, it is likely a culture problem. It may simply be that your colleagues are nice people who also hate their jobs. Their negativity could be denting your attitude and positivity.

Toxic workplace cultures are 10 times more important than pay in predicting employee turnover. When faced with a culture problem, the first step is to take control where you can — and let go of the rest. If it is realistic to work remotely so you can maintain physical distance, do that. Minimising physical exposure to the poor culture will directly increase your happiness. This doesn’t necessarily mean homeworking. One woman I interviewed stopped going into her office because she was isolated by her line manager. Instead, she worked in ad hoc spaces on-site, meeting colleagues she liked.

Self-selecting remote-first working when everyone else turns up to the office is a short-term solution to a negative work environment. Enjoy the tranquillity — but make sure to reconnect with your network and plan your next move.

Eight strategies for those who hate their jobs

1. Do not quit without a good escape option.

2. Spur yourself to action by adopting the following mantra: I am responsible for resolving the problem.

3. Identify the root cause of why you hate your job: audit how you spend your time, paying attention to the tasks that bring you misery and those that bring you joy.

4. If poor pay is the root of your dissatisfaction, find the courage to ask for a rise. Your manager may say no, but even that gives you a new piece of information to work with.

5. ‘Internship craft’ — work on the practice of altering your job to make it more meaningful to you, and to reduce the tasks you hate at work.

6. Increase the tasks that bring you joy by job crafting and/or initiating a new side hustle.

7. If the culture problem in your workplace is bringing you down, temporarily work more often from home, while planning your exit.

8. Invest in refining and developing your network: ask your ‘loose ties’ — professional acquaintances, former colleagues and contacts — for tips, advice and opportunities, rather than just benefiting from the sympathy that your close friends provide.