Unhappy at Work: Why we Stay in Jobs we Hate

I’ve met and worked with many people who were less than enthusiastic about their jobs. Over the years I’ve heard all sorts of stories. Some remind me of my own. The ideal job that seemed so wonderful during the recruitment process turned out to be wrong on so many levels. There were times when a sense of unease disturbed an otherwise very happy working life and where the once perfect job changed drastically, usually due restructuring, and so my job satisfaction bottomed out.

Each time I found myself asking that question, should I stay or should I go? It’s a question that triggers an often-painful process of confronting and working through all the fears and excuses that keep us stuck in jobs we’ve outgrown, in work we don’t like, in workplaces that limit our potential and with bosses who make our lives miserable.

When we avoid the question and choose to stay we gradually turn into one of “those” people. We’ve all seen them. They change from happy dynamic professionals into the half-hearted clock-watchers who stampede the car park on the stroke of five.

During my HR career there were the “bad bosses” who generated complaints from their staff, then there were the under achievers who generated complaints from their boss - as well as their teammates. In many instances they became the problem employees who found themselves in a “performance management” process. What was so distressing is that, almost without exception, they were talented, intelligent, capable and good people.

Which raises the inevitable question. Why? Why stay in a job that you hate, that’s making your life so miserable? In the following article I list 12 of the most common reasons, and should they apply to you then I urge you to find the courage to make the change. No, it’s never easy but there is too much at stake and life is too short to be lived as one of “those people”. 

The What and the Why

Kiwi workers average between 1826 – 1845 hours at work each year (Australians 1730 hours, US 1804 hours and in the UK 1672 hours). This doesn’t include the time we spend thinking about work, getting to and from work or recovering from work. And yet, even though work consumes so much of lives more than 50% of workers are unhappy in their work; so unhappy that it costs billions of dollars every year in absenteeism, litigation, lost productivity and stress-related problems.

While there are as many reasons for hating a job as there are jobs, the reasons we stay in jobs we hate however fall into four categories: Fear, Familiarity, Family and Finances with the following reasons being the most common:

It’s Easy

It's easier not to change and to carry on with the way things are. It can take a lot of effort to find something else and the search can be a difficult experience. It often involves a series of rejections and so rather than risk the ego it’s easier to do nothing.

Starting Over

A new job involves a steep learning curve. You have to prove yourself, build your credibility, build new relationships and learn new ways of doing things. You go from being the old hand to the new kid on the block.

The Devil You Know

People prefer what they know to what they don’t even if it’s not what they like. The risk of going to a job where there’s no guarantee of it being any better, or where it might be worse, is a major barrier to changing jobs.

Wait and See…

Many employees stay in the hope that things will improve. Hoping that the manager who is making their life difficult might leave or things will change if you just wait long enough. There is often a cynicism among longer-term employees of organizational change because they know they will outlast it just like the last time. Sometimes people hold on in the belief that the company will pay you to go i.e. the great redundancy deal.

Lack of Confidence

People who’ve been in one job or with one company for a very long time worry that no other employer would actually want them. They also fear that they may not be capable of doing another job or doing as well in another company.

Conflicted Loyalty

Even when people don’t like their jobs they may still feel a strong sense of loyalty or responsibility towards their colleagues and customers. Although they want to leave they feel if they did, they would be abandoning and letting these people down.

Loss of Friendships

People may have forged strong bonds or close friendships with the people they work with. They don’t like the thought of breaking ties and losing friendships.

Loss of Benefits People realise it will take time before they can accumulate enough annual leave for a holiday. Many companies reward long service with an increased annual leave entitlement, which will be lost in a move to another company.

Financial Lifestyle

Burdened by mortgages, loans, credit card or student debt or nearing retirement some employees feel that they can’t afford to leave their job. Other longer serving or more senior employees with higher than average salaries realise it’s unlikely they’ll find a position with a matching salary and are reluctant to compromise their standard of living.

Comfort and Convenience

Even if the job doesn’t fit, the hours of work do or the location may suit their lifestyle. They are reluctant to change jobs if it means a change of hours or a longer commute.

Family Commitments

In smaller provincial centres, with fewer employment opportunities, changing jobs may involve relocating which could disrupt a partner’s career and their children’s schooling.

No Direction

Many people, who are unhappy in their jobs, lack clear career direction. They don’t know what they really want to do which makes finding another job even more challenging. When they don’t know what they want they remain in a job even when they don’t like it.


So What?

The longer you choose to stay in a job you hate the more unhappy, bitter and resentful you become and the constant strain will impact all aspects of your life.

It can damage your health

The dread of going to work every day is stressful and stress can seriously affect your health. It’s time to leave if you’re experiencing stress related illness like frequent headaches or infections, severe indigestion, insomnia or depression.

It can damage your career

Your reputation is your most valuable asset. If you’ve lost, or are in the process of losing, the respect of your boss and your colleagues then it’s time to move on.

It can damage your relationships

The unhappiness will flow into your professional and personal relationships. An unhappy and unfulfilled person is no fun to work or live with.

It can damage your self-respect

Poor relationships at work; the lack of job satisfaction and the knowledge that you’re not living up to or working to your full potential attacks your self-esteem and erodes your confidence. Quit before you lose your self-respect.

It’s a Lose-Lose situation

If you take no action, and where your job doesn’t miraculously improve, the loss of your health, self respect, reputation and relationships will create a miserable downward spiral. The employment relationship may deteriorate to such a degree that the decision to leave will be made for you by your employer. It is always better to leave on your own terms.


Now What?

No action equals no change but the moment you make a decision and begin taking steps towards putting it into action you will regain a sense of control and your self-respect.

1: Identify exactly what it is that’s preventing you from making changes. Once you know you can take steps to manage it.

2: Involve your partner and family. Talk to them about your reasons for quitting, how it will affect them and what you will need to do to find another job.

3. Review your finances and manage your budget in preparation for your job search.

4: Focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want. Consider all your options. Work with a coach or utilise government career and employment services, recruitment agencies and your personal network.

5: Your job is now to find yourself a job. Pace yourself in your current job but channel all that negative energy into your new job search. Call on the support of your friends and family to help you stay focused and positive. Your health and your family deserve it and your future happiness is waiting for you.

Reference: Sources: http://stats.oecd.org OECD Factbook 2007: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics

Posted: Saturday 6 April 2013

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