Do you hate your job? Are you miserable at work? Do you get the “Sunday scaries” and dread the office on Monday? Are you wondering if it’s time to throw in the towel?
Many of us are looking at our job satisfaction and wondering if we shouldn’t be getting more out of our work. We may think of moving on but feel afraid of the career and financial consequences. So we trudge in each day, accepting that we’re doomed to feel miserable at work.
If you’re unhappy at work, there are a few points to examine. Here’s why you might be so dissatisfied with your job.
As a coach, I often hear people complain about their job situation. Many people have told me that they’re miserable at work. But what does that really mean?
When we’re just going through the motions, trying to make it through the day, it might be time for a step back.
The first question is—does work have to be miserable? After all, it’s called work, not fun, right? Absolutely not! I’ve worked with hundreds of people who were satisfied, stimulated, and purpose-driven in their work. They had fulfilling job experiences, whether they were a CEO, an entry-level intern, or serving up coffee behind a counter.
When we look at our mindset, we can often turn those feelings of being miserable at work into feelings of fulfillment, growth, and betterment. Are we getting in the way of our career satisfaction? Here are a few reasons we might feel miserable at work.
We are all responsible for our own actions. But what does personal responsibility at work mean?
Taking personal responsibility is the act of declaring: “I determine how I react to the world. I am responsible for my own self-care. I don’t expect others to take care of me, AND I take responsibility for my emotional responses.” In our work life, we could also add, “I’m personally responsible for giving work my all, every day.”
When we don’t take personal responsibility, we enter a state of victimhood. We get stuck in a drama triangle, where we’re the helpless victim. We stop analyzing our situation and making choices to become more effective and happier. Instead, we are disempowered, in a hole of our own unhappiness. We’re blaming others for our problems without doing our part to improve our situation.
It turns out that people who are unhappy at work are often the same people with the least to do. Boredom is anger turned inward. When people take that attitude to work, they aren’t set up for success. They’re spinning their tires on the ice rather than moving forward and accomplishing tasks. When we face challenges and complete a task for the day, we feel accomplished and excited. These achievements lead to pride, joy, and job satisfaction.
Personal responsibility is about understanding that we each own our emotions and reactions at all times. We can make work a fun game or see it as drudgery. For example, I once hired an acquaintance and two temps to help with an envelope-stuffing project. The work was monotonous, but the acquaintance would stuff 300 envelopes at a time. When he finished his goal, he’d reward himself with a quick walk outside or a snack. Then he’d come back a get right back to work.
On the other hand, the temps viewed the task as dull and frustrating. My acquaintance ended up stuffing more envelopes than the two temps combined. He was much happier too. He didn’t complain or blame the task. Instead, he got to work and turned it into a game.
If we want more satisfaction at work, we must start to shift our perspective about what’s “fun.” How can we set a goal and work towards it? Setting a timer, creating a milestone, or seeing how efficiently we can complete a task can make the time pass quickly and leave us feeling satisfied.
When we were kids, we may have heard that we had a problem with authority. It happens to many people, me included. Like many of our childhood memories and ideas, our pushback and rebellious streak can continue to manifest in adulthood.
If we have issues with authority (if we’ve had similar feelings whenever someone else is in charge), we’ll probably react to any boss, supervisor, or manager in a volatile way. Whether that means we shut down and withdraw or resist and defend, we’re likely to face continuous conflict unless we explore our feelings.
There are two steps we can take to get a handle on our authority issues:
First Step: We can deal with our unfinished business. All of us carry unfinished business with us. These issues are often unresolved from our childhood (even if we had happy childhoods), and they can come up when we experience feelings of powerlessness or frustration.
Yes, our “jerk boss” might be overly aggressive or even a bully because he’s unhappy with himself. But we don’t have control over that. We can only control our actions and reactions. Some folks can really struggle with this area, and it’s essential to get to the root of the problem. It could stem from residual childhood issues with authority. Perhaps our boss brings up negative feelings we had about someone in our past (an older sibling, a teacher). Becoming aware of these emotions and projections helps us get on the right path to control our reactions and make confrontations constructive.
Second Step: Deal with it. It may sound harsh, but sometimes we face people who are just jerks. If we’ve done work to become conscious of our projections and emotional reaction, but our boss is still a problematic bully, then the real question is—is it worth it? Can we deal with it? Can we put aside the feelings and work with this person productively?
We can ask about our performance and spark a conversation with our boss down the road. This presents a less-heated opportunity to confront our boss about their attitude honestly and openly.
How will the boss react? They may respond positively or negatively, but when we’ve honestly expressed our feelings in a responsible manner, we own them. Our boss may not listen, and they may not change, but these opportunities can teach us powerful lessons about our inner strength, skillset, and even how to do a better job. If the situation is genuinely unworkable, then it may be time to liberate ourselves from the job and find something that’s a better fit.
Sometimes our misery at work doesn’t stem from our boss or the drudgery of the job. Sometimes we feel miserable at work because we aren’t connecting with others—customers, vendors, and coworkers. We’re letting our emotions take over without examining their origins.
Take, for example, if we feel really angry at a coworker. When we engage our emotional intelligence, we own, examine, and understand our emotions. We explore where our anger comes from, and we own our part in it. As a result, we can engage in productive, honest conflict with the other person and find a proactive way to resolve the situation. We can learn and grow from every interaction, thus nourishing our emotional and social intelligence.
Where do these emotions and projections come from? Childhood lessons and values can project onto our adult selves and influence our interactions with others. People often become their childhood selves while interacting with those who remind them of certain family members or friends. One person may stir feelings of comfort and happiness—like a favorite aunt. Another person may evoke feelings of inadequacy, like our demanding dad.
When we examine everyone we have issues with at work, we might discover some distinct familiarities with our relatives and friends from the past. Examine these issues to determine what we might be projecting onto others, whether good or bad. Recognizing our emotions can help those emotional intelligence skills grow.
Social and emotional intelligence skills help us understand people’s emotions and reactions. Social intelligence is the ability to understand what other people are feeling, then learning to influence them positively and productively.
If we want to explore our social intelligence skills, we can ask ourselves questions like:
Some people lack social intelligence skills because they lack emotional intelligence too. They don’t understand their emotions and reactions. One leads to the other, and both skills are essential for happiness and satisfaction in work and life.
For example, if we feel like we’re on a team that drags us down, we can turn it around and ask, “What have I done to lift my team today?” That’s part of that social and emotional intelligence in practice. If we take responsibility for ourselves, even when others are not, we can be socially aware and carefully, responsibly, and clearly communicate our feelings. We can start to understand our colleagues and how they might react and then engage with them accordingly.
All these reasons go hand-in-hand with why we might feel miserable at work. I’m not interested in just helping people be “happier” at work. I’m interested in helping them have a wildly successful career of fulfillment and satisfaction. Most of us won’t be happy every day with every task, but we can shift our mindset to find purpose in every task.
The 4 reasons for being miserable at work are in a very specific order for a reason. The first step is taking responsibility for ourselves. Then we must deal with our authority issues, increase our emotional awareness, and build our social and emotional intelligence.
Learning these social and emotional intelligence skills allows us to create joyous work, practice gratitude, learn and grow in an adventuresome way. We will discover more about ourselves, others, and our world every day.
To build up your career satisfaction, don’t miss the courses available at Wright Now. We have insightful resources to help you increase your satisfaction in your relationships, career, and with yourself. Don’t miss the opportunity to live a life of more!
Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.