The reason you hate your job, and what to do about it

February 10, 2021

The reason you hate your job — and what to do about it


Many articles cite the 2018 Gallup poll which found over 69% of full and part time employees were not engaged or were actively ‘disengaged’ with their work. In the UK, CV library did a survey which showed over 55% of people are unhappy at work. As a psychologist and specialist in this field I think it’s important not only to share insight into the problem, but offer evidence-based insights to suggest actions to help.

The issue isn’t motivation or drive: most people want to do jobs they enjoy. In our own survey of over 440 people, the main reasons people want to change career is to do work which offers a sense of purpose and gives people flexibility.

The reason so many of us are doing work we don’t like is because we don’t have the data to make better choices. When you marry someone — you date them first. You spend time with them in a range of contexts (holidays, parties, lazy Saturday mornings) to work out if this is someone you’re ready to share your life with. When you buy a house, it’s typical we go and view it because even with all the data available online, nothing beats seeing for yourself the property set against your own very personal criteria. One person may love a property on a main road near the station — for someone else, a main road would be a deal breaker. Work is the same: to make a better decision about what work is going to be right for you, you need to experience it first.

Most organisations do a ridiculous dance of attempting to describe a role and in many cases, getting people to jump through a series of hoops to get there. Thankfully, the world is changing and people are able to access more contracting, intern and work experience opportunities than were previously available, but options — particularly for people over 40 are extremely limited.In our research, we asked what could organisations do to more effectively help people wanting to change jobs? The answer was to offer more job shadowing opportunities. It costs nothing — yes, some hassle factor, but let’s be honest, the hassle factor of hiring someone and paying them for a few months and then having both parties realise it’s not quite right is certainly not the better answer! Until organisations get bold enough to overhaul their recruitment processes, you need to take control. Here are my main tips:

1.    Stop with the passion nonsense.

In an overly saturated market of people who’ve trained to become career and life coaches, you’ll have been promised the earth:I’ll help you find your calling! I’ll help you find a job you love! Life’s too short to do work that doesn’t matter to you! The problem with these messages is it raises a level of expectation which is not fair. Employers have a duty to pay you a fair salary for the work you do, provide you with a safe environment and meet the requirements of the law with respect to contributions to pensions, insurance and so on. It is not their job and indeed it would be unfair to expect any employer to constantly adapt a job to meet your changing values and needs as your life evolves. You may want a job you’re passionate about (who doesn’t) but unless that ties in with what people will pay for, it’s unfair to expect this will be provided. Look at the start up world: there is no shortage of passion and yet 95% of passionate founders do and will go bust. So tip number one — adjust your expectations and be realistic about what an employer can provide.


2.    Do it yourself.

If you want to feel passionate about something, you have to craft it yourself. That might mean you step outside of your day job and build something ‘on the side’. You might be able craft your job to offer you more opportunities to engage with what you’re passionate about, but you’ll have to prove this will be profitable — or at the very least it will provide a benefit to your employer. When I used to work in consultancy, I felt I could carve out a niche with a specific client group. I asked for the opportunity to run an event — which would only cost money if I succeeded in getting people there. The ‘cost’ to my employer was low. They gave me permission. I basked in the glory of building a small client group, getting a fantastic turn out and a few weeks later getting an invitation to tender for work, which we later won. I got the accolade of being proactive and get the satisfaction from being the ‘expert’ in the business at helping clients from that particular niche. Taking control is a central theme in all psychological teaching about feeling empowered and providing yourself with a ‘stress buffer’. No employer can read your mind and create a role to suit you — this can only ever be something you do for yourself.


3.    Seek out opportunities to learn about, shadow and experience different jobs.

Assuming you aren’t content — and motivated sufficiently to the point of action, your best bet will be seek out chances todo the jobs you’re thinking about and considering. What you can read on a  job description or company brochure will never be sufficient to give you the data you need to make a decision. We’ve been running the only job shadowing service in the UK for 3 years now and what we’ve found is over 50% of the time, people who’ve dreamed about jobs find once they do them, it’s not their ‘dream’ after all. For the other 40+%, shadowing the job acts as a catalyst for action.Nothing builds confidence like trying it and realising it is the right decision.

People don’t advertise chances to shadow — mainly because up until now, people expect this for free and on that basis, there is literally nothing in it for the job holder. The only time you hear of someone offering shadowing, it’s because they’re emotionally guilted into it by a friend, asking on behalf of their child. For mid lifers, this doesn’t feel like it’s a viable option, but I convert people to offer shadowing opportunities because I pay them the opportunity cost of their time. There is nothing stopping you doing the same and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper (usually) than the cost of giving up your job, paying for a course etc.. and then realising it was a mistake.


4.    Go part time and volunteer a day or two a week.

If you’re in a position to financially consider volunteering one or two days a week, you can access a range of fantastic organisations where chances are, you will have a significant opportunity to make a difference. Certainly at my Association, people get opportunities to lead streams and operate in ways which are hugely valuable to their careers longer term. To do this whilst helping others and building another network of like minded people can be exceptionally rewarding. For a great many people I work with, even if they can afford to volunteer, many struggle with what this means for their identity. Our sense of self worth is often hung up on being paid for work we do. We’re told frequently never to work for ‘free’ and this needs to be challenged. I’d never support exploitation — but I’d argue vehemently that volunteering doesn’t fall into this bracket. Developing skills, networks and getting that craved for sense of purpose is worth the time investment.

In the covid climate in which we are now operating, many employers will likely welcome the chance to reduce the number of full-time employees. It could be argued for many organisations, now has never been a better time, for you to evaluate your mindset, take control and consider a different working structure.It is sensible to consider not one job — but several to meet the variety of needs you may have, and if you can afford a little money sacrifice, it’s never been a better time to take control and give it a go.



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Lucy Standing

Lucy Standing is a business psychologist and co-founder of Brave Starts