By Tom Peterson
Do you work in an unhappy place? Are people mean? Do you abandon hope as you enter? Do you ask yourself, “How did I get here?” Do you want to go home and rethink your life? Is the stress too damned high?
Are you thinking don’t rock the boat? Just lay low? Are new ideas blasted like clay pigeons in a skeet shoot? Is the Director of No in charge? Is it dead-end? Mind-numbing? Crazy making?
If you answered yes to more than zero of these questions, you just might have a problem.
You’re already dying slowly by a thousand paper cuts. You’re in a dungeon dark and damp. You hear the groans of co-workers in nearby cells. You know what that retching stench is. Overcome by weariness, you languish by the day.
You’re in a horror movie. You’ve heard strange noises in the house and seen the slain bodies by the copy machine. You’ve heard rumors of others who disappeared near the HR office. Surely, your turn is coming. The door handle is turning. Your worthless supervisor won’t save you. Get out!
Run the hell as fast as you can!
You see flashing warning lights, hear the alarm. Find the escape pod. Open its door and climb in. Push the button that will land you on the nearest planet!
Okay, that was fun. But for many people it’s also too real. What do you do when you find yourself in a little job of horrors? If your work is bad for your health, you may just need to get on out. The same is true for serious ethical issues. Having enough saved funds or lining up temporary work can also give you a way out.
More likely, there’s no little-job-of-horrors drama but you just know it’s time to move on. So unless the job is destroying you or you can afford it, don’t just march into the boss’s office and declare “I quit!” That’s always a satisfying movie scene, but you need to pay your bills. Don’t do the drama thing, don’t burn bridges. You’ll want good references and it’s harder to land that next job if you’re not employed. Focus instead on a new plan.
But first, be kind to yourself. If you’re spending 40 hours a week in a bad place, start by finding ways to deal with the stress, or even trauma, so you can be centered and can focus on a better future. This is the time to ask for help. Yes, for some that’s really hard; do it anyway. Reach out and ask people you trust for support and advice. Then consider these paths:
Find a different way to stay in the same organization.
If the group you work with is awful but the organization itself is good and large enough, here are a couple of possibilities:
- Find a different Supervisor. In almost every survey a bad boss is a top reason people leave their jobs. See if you can you switch to a different group within the organization, a team where people feel challenged and satisfied.
- Craft your own position within the organization. Get creative! Design an important project that can advance the organization. Convince management to let you change roles (and report to someone supportive). Turn it into what Tom Peters calls a Wow! Project.
Grow while looking for a better work.
Because so much of our self-identity comes from our work, being in a bad environment will take its toll.
While you begin the things job hunters do, like networking and updating your resume, remember you’re there only a while longer. Focus on what you actually do like about your job and avoid slipping into negativity. Meanwhile, consider these opportunities:
- Do some self-reflection. This could be a time for real personal growth. Re-imagine want you to be doing? Journal about your purpose and goals. Consider a life coach or career coach. Books like What Color is Your Parachute? offer exercises to help you reflect on career goals as well as solid job-seeking strategies.
- Use this time to expand some skills. Take that online course or a class at your local college that you’ve always thought about. Volunteer for a group that will teach you something you’ve wanted to learn.
- Begin networking not just to find the next job but to develop the relationships for your new career.
As you learn new skills and make new connections you’ll shift your self-identity from someone in a lousy job to someone in growth mode. Don’t let your daily work life drag you down. Instead, align it with your true self. Find a place that feeds you, where you can thrive.