With so many people struggling to find jobs these days, it’s become taboo to complain about work. If an employed young professional expresses even the slightest inkling of discontent, the collective voice of the economy shouts back, “You’re lucky you have a job!” Unemployed friends glare at you. Parents dismiss your complaints and mutter something about health benefits. Mentors tell you to tough it out.
Unfortunately, many young people are not prepared for the realities of possibly disliking their first job. College career centers focus their efforts on career exploration and job search mechanics. There’s plenty of programming about resume writing and networking, but I’ve never seen a workshop entitled “What to do when you hate your first job” or “Office Politics 101: Dealing with crazy co-workers.”
So I’m going to present some strategies for coping with a job you can’t stand and laying the groundwork to leave before the job saps your soul.
Identify why you hate it.
This is an important step. By identifying the reason you don’t like your job, you know what to avoid when looking for another position. And it’s not always obvious. Is it the actual work you’re doing? The structure of your day? The managerial style of your boss? The pace of activity? The level of responsibility? The autonomy (or lack thereof)? The flexibility? The amount of gossip? Are your co-workers throwing office equipment at you?
There are so many possible reasons you can hate your job; it’s best to pinpoint exactly what you don’t like. Certain industries are prone to specific types of behavior, so if you know what you don’t like, you can avoid putting yourself in a workplace with those circumstances again.
For instance, higher education institutions are known for deep, analytical thought and lots of meetings. If you are not someone who enjoys dissecting a problem in 3,000 different ways – and would rather jump into action solving it immediately – working at an institution of higher education may not be for you.
Separate work from life.
I’ve noticed that the people who get really distressed and depressed over work are the ones who allow work to take an unnaturally large role in their lives. Don’t let your work define you. If possible, avoid checking work e-mail after you leave the office. Engage in fun activities and exercise. De-compress with friends after work.
If you’re in a position that’s not a good fit for your competencies or your personality, you may get criticism related to how you perform your job. It’s especially important that you don’t internalize this criticism. If you’re in a job that doesn’t let you shine, it’s easy to get down on yourself and start thinking you’re a failure. The criticism is not a reflection on you as a person; it’s your fit for the position.
Find the positives.
Even in a job you hate, there has to be something positive. Do you have a hilarious co-worker? Are there opportunities for professional development? Can you network with people inside (or outside) the company to propel you to your next job? What about the benefits? Does your salary allow you to enjoy nice things outside of work? Do you have vacation days? Flexible work hours? Health insurance? A retirement account?
Make a list of all the good stuff about your job and look at these reasons whenever you need motivation to keep plugging away.
Isolating yourself at work will only make you hate your job more. Try getting to know the folks in your office. Talk about life outside of work. Talk about the weather. Talk about your favorite TV show. Do whatever you have to do to make a more pleasant experience for yourself at the office.
In the event that your co-workers are actually the reason you hate your job, try to identify one or two colleagues who you consider fun and/or normal. Even in the most dysfunctional workplace, you can usually find a couple level-headed people. Stick with them. If necessary, form a “sanity alliance” where you occasionally vent and laugh about the bizarre things you witness within your workplace. Make up secret nicknames for your co-workers, if it helps you to keep your spirits up and not take your situation too seriously.
Develop an exit strategy.
Set a hard deadline date for when you will break free from the job you hate, and develop a strategy for getting to that point. Map out the specific steps you need to take to get your next position, along with a timeline which includes weekly and monthly goals. The job search involves networking, updating your resume, applying to jobs, and more. In today’s economy, it typically takes more than three months to successfully land a job. That’s why you need to plan ahead.
Avoid burning bridges.
If you truly hate your job, chances are everyone at your office already knows this. They also probably know you’re looking for another job or will be doing so within the next year. It’s really not necessary to torch all bridges as you exit, though, so avoid doing things that will infuriate your colleagues and jeopardize future references. Complete your work to the best of your ability and don’t incite negative conversations about the workplace among co-workers.
You are lucky to have a job right now…but just because the economy is in a rut doesn’t mean you have to be stuck too. If you’re miserable in your job, think about these strategies and plan your exit now.
Dan Klamm is the Outreach & Marketing Coordinator for Syracuse University Career Services. In his position, he is responsible for student engagement with Career Services. This includes managing the marketing campaigns for events and programs, leading social media initiatives, and fostering relationships with people across campus to build awareness of the office. Connect with him on Twitter @DanKlamm and LinkedIn.