Around two thirds of people in careers across the spectrum, from factory workers to doctors and pilots, have reported a lack of engagement and a high level of dissatisfaction at work. The main reason? Many of us feel undervalued, spinning our wheels at work on too many meaningless projects at once, and rarely on things we enjoy.
But there’s good news. You can turn things around, and reverse the feelings of disenchantment and disillusion, as long as you’re willing to be proactive and make some changes. With a few careful steps, a bit of self-analysis, and tough talk with your boss, you can transform a job you despise into one that you love, or at the very least, can tolerate.
First, though, the facts.
How to turn it around
If you’ve learned to hate your job, first you should know that it’s not your fault – at least not entirely. Part of the problem is that society has built up the idea of what a job should be, says Dr Paul White, a US-based psychologist, consultant, and author.
“People start working and think they can go in and save the world and use all of their creative talents to solve problems,” White says. “Especially for entry-level positions, there are few jobs that will work on big-picture issues and require any creative energy.”
The first step to turning things around, White says, is self-management. Consider whether your expectations are too high, at least perhaps for your current position, and temper your expectations for work.
Then, analyse why you’ve learned to dislike work, says Scott Elbin, a leadership coach and author of Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. Consider why you took the job initially and remind yourself what you liked about it when you started it.
That should help you realise what areas you’d like to see fixed. From there, create “actionable steps” to change your job, Elbin says. “Don’t be thinking you’re going to go from hating to loving your job overnight,” he says. “Think 20-30% satisfaction at first and work up to something better.”
Time to take risks
That’s not a difficult thing to achieve if you work on small things first, says George Elfond, CEO of Rallyware, a San Francisco-based software company that helps train new employees.
“There could be small details that make a huge difference in your happiness,” Elfond says from Ireland. The simple things – like stocking your desk with better snacks, going for an afternoon coffee, or working somewhere outside the office – could soon add up to consecutive good days.
Once you’ve got little fixes, it’s time to address the big things. You’ve already learned to dislike your job, so Elfond suggests it’s time to take some risks on how to fix it.
“Go ahead and experiment,” Elfond says. “What do you have to lose when you already hate the job you’re doing?”
That might mean trying to get out from under a boss you dislike. Maybe ask for a temporary assignment to another department, or volunteer for tasks that would mean you’ll be reporting to someone else. Perhaps your boss will be offended, but Elfond says there’s little risk if the relationship is already sour.
If parts of your job have become mundane and automatic, concentrate on what you can control. Are there tasks you can avoid or allocate to someone else? For doctors, for instance, maybe that’s putting more energy to time spent with patients and less on administration duties that could be allocated to other colleagues.
In short, it’s about working with your manager and colleagues and doing what you can to rewrite your job description, says Thomas Calvard, lecturer in human resource management at the University of Edinburgh.
Be proactive in bringing these changes to your boss, Calvard says. Most likely your manager doesn’t know that you’re unhappy with parts of your position, and maybe you could be given more flexibility in defining your day-to-day work.
“We’re talking about people getting back to why they loved their jobs, and that’s about perhaps redefining what they do and how they do it,” Calvard says.
The best day, every day
For Anita Bowness – global practice leader for business consulting at Saba Software in Ottawa, Canada – there’s a simple solution for anyone wanting to turn around a job they’ve learned to hate.
“Think about your best day at work, the times you’re happiest,” Bowness says. “Then consider how you can duplicate it every day.”
This happened to Bowness at a previous employer, where she had simply become uninterested in the work she was doing every day. She became the victim of “scope creep,” assigned to IT-related tasks when her background was more in human resources.
Her boss called her out on it one day, asking why she was so disengaged, and Bowness realised she had to make a change. Bowness then asked if her job could be redefined, allowing her to concentrate more on the things she enjoys. Eventually her manager moved her to a new role where she found the work far more rewarding.
Now, as a manger herself, Bowness has asked employees who report to her to do the same best-day-at-work analysis.
“Many people feel like work isn’t fulfilling to them,” Bowness says. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can figure out a way to make it fulfilling again.”