Dr. Bob Wright | May 27, 2015

4 Reasons You’re Miserable
at Work…and What To Do About It

As a coach, I often hear complaints from people who say they feel miserable at work. Perhaps they’re frustrated, or angry, or even bored. Many people say they’re “just trying to make it through the day.” Sound familiar?

Being miserable at work isn't uncommon. Learn to see the signs of unhappiness and how to help yourself.

Does your job have to be miserable? Absolutely not. Here are 4 common reasons most people are miserable at work—and what to do to turn that misery into personal fulfillment and betterment.

1. You’re Not Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Own Happiness

Taking personal responsibility is the act of declaring: “I determine how I react to the world. I am responsible for my own self-care. So, I do not expect to be taken care of AND I take responsibility for my emotional responses.” Plus, let’s add: “I am personally responsible for giving my work my all, every day.”

When you don’t take personal responsibility, you enter what I call victimhood. You’re stuck in the drama triangle—you’re the victim, so you’re not analyzing your situation and making choices to be more effective and happy. Instead, you lie in a hole of your own unhappiness, blaming everyone else for your problems, without doing your part to improve your situation.

People unhappy at work are often those who have the least to do.

Boredom (which is anger turned inwards) is a common attitude people go into work with. When your tires are spinning on the ice, you aren’t moving forward and getting work done. But when you complete your work for the day, and you’re excited about the accomplishments you’ve achieved, this can lead to great pride and joy.

Taking personal responsibility is all about understanding that you own your emotions and reactions at all times. You can make a game out of any type of work. For example, I once hired a guy that had previously worked for me, along with two temps, for an envelope-stuffing project. This guy would stuff 300 envelopes, then reward himself with a brisk walk or a snack—and he stuffed more envelopes than the other two combined. He accomplished much more and was much happier than his other two colleagues who spent the whole time complaining and blaming the task at hand for their own misery. It’s all about shifting your perspective.

2. You Have Authority Issues

As a kid, were you ever told you had problems with authority figures? This same behavior can manifest into adulthood—just like many of our childhood memories and ideas. But just because your boss is a supreme jerk (and there are plenty of those out there), it doesn’t mean that you have to be unhappy.

If you have issues with authority, you’ll probably react to anyone in charge in a volatile way. Whether you shut down and withdraw, or resist and defend—you and your boss are going to continuously be in conflict.

There are two things you can do:

  1. Deal with your unfinished business: If your boss is overly aggressive, he’s probably unhappy himself. However, you can still control how you react—you just need to get to the root of the problem. Do you have residual childhood issues with authority that are manifesting themselves in the present? Are you projecting negative feelings you had about someone authoritative in your past (your older sister, your teacher)? Being aware of these emotions and projections can help get you on the right path towards controlling your reactions and turning each confrontation into a positive outcome.
  2. Deal with your boss: If you are conscious of your projections and emotional reactions but still think your boss is a total jerk, then the real question is: Can you put aside your charge and work with this person in a productive manner? Hey, we all have to work with jerks. It’s just a fact of life. The world is a big place and not everyone will get along.

Instead, focus on effectively doing your job, then down the road, ask about your performance. This could be an opportunity to confront your boss about their negative attitude in an honest and open way. Your boss may react positively or negatively but you can still own your own empowered emotional and vocal reactions. Your boss may not listen to you and may not change, but you can still listen and use these opportunities to learn more about yourself, your skillset, and even about how you might be able to do an even better job at work.

3. You Don’t Have Emotional Intelligence Skills

There are always opportunities to grow and hone your emotional intelligence in all work situations. Let’s say you’re really angry at a coworker. Emotional intelligence can help you understand where that anger is coming from, own your part in it, and work together with the other person to develop a proactive way to deal with it. The goal is to learn and grow from every interaction, thus nourishing your emotional and social intelligence.

Keep in mind that childhood lessons and values can project onto your adult self and influence your interactions with others. People often become their childhood selves when interacting with those who remind them of certain family members or friends. One person may make you feel like happy (like your nicest aunt) while another person might make you feel inadequate (like your demanding dad). Examine everyone you have issues with at work and determine who or what you might be projecting onto them—whether good or bad—as it will help your emotional intelligence skills grow.

4. You Don’t Have Social Intelligence Skills

Social and emotional intelligence skills help you understand people and their emotions and reactions. Social intelligence is the ability to understand what other people are feeling, then learning to influence them in a positive and productive way.

Ask yourself questions like: Am I a great team member? Am I ensuring that my colleagues are working effectively? Am I helping everyone win by contributing to all of us working well as a team? Am I an open and honest communicator with everyone within the company, focusing on how to better both my work and myself?

Some people lack social intelligence skills because they lack emotional intelligence, meaning they don’t even understand their own emotions and reactions. One leads to the other and both are essential for happiness.

For example, if you feel you’re on a work team that’s dragging you down, turn it around and ask yourself, “What have I done to lift my team up today?” That’s part of that social and emotional intelligence in practice: if you’re taking responsibility and others are not, become socially aware of that and carefully and clearly communicate your feelings. Understand your colleagues and how they react, then confront accordingly.

ALL of These Reasons Go Hand-in-Hand

I’m not interested in helping you to be happier at work, I’m interested in helping you have a wildly successful career of fulfillment and satisfaction. I put these 4 reasons you’re miserable at work in this order for a reason: taking personal responsibility is the first step to dealing with authority issues and increasing your social and emotional intelligence.

Learning all of these social and emotional intelligence skills will allow you to create joyous work, practice gratitude, and learn and grow in an adventuresome way to discover more about yourself, others, and your world—every day.

Join Wright Living at Foundations Training Weekend to get started.

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About the Author

Dr. Bob Wright

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.

Learn more about Wright Living’s Career & Leadership Coaching in Chicago & Career Coaching Courses in Chicago.

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.