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Cartoon: caption: "Wilbur is job hunting. But I am not entirely sure he gets the concept."

Does Your Job Suck?

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Does your job suck? If so, you are not alone. According to a 2013 Gallup survey, nearly a quarter of the global workforce are unhappy and unproductive at work. And almost two thirds are unmotivated. That's a lot of unhappy workers.

So, why not quit your job and do something more meaningful and satisfying with your life? If you are like many people, you'd love to do that, but you do not want to lose the income, benefits and security. If you live in America, the health insurance you get from work is likely a consideration that keeps you in your sucky job. But would it really be so bad?

Loss Aversion

There is some interesting psychology going on here and it is keeping you in that job. Loss Aversion is a known cognitive bias in which people strongly prefer to avoid loss than acquire a gain of the same value. People will make a greater effort to avoid losing €50 than they would to gain €50. Likewise, the job you have now seems far more valuable than a potential better job you might get if you quit your current job. In particular, you do not want to lose the benefits your otherwise unpleasant job brings. This is doubly true if your income and benefits partially or completely support your family.

However, when you take such a perspective about a sucky job, you are failing to look at the costs of not quitting. Job dissatisfaction can lead to stress, unhappiness and depression all of which take a toll. These can lead to health issues and even reduce your lifespan.

To make matter worse, being stressed out and depressed usually means you are not giving emotionally to your family. In worst case scenarios, frustration about a boring job may lead to sharp or even aggressive behaviour towards members of your family. If you think your kids do not recognise that you are unhappy, you should think again. Ask any adult whose parents argued regularly when he was a kid. (For the record, mine didn't. But a number of my friends' parents did and they have told me it was hell.)

So, there is a potential cost to quitting your job and a clearer cost to keeping your job. From that perspective, your job is not so valuable as you might believe. Nevertheless, quitting your job is a risk, especially if you do not have a plan. However, with a plan, you can mitigate that risk substantially. Let's see how that might work.

Why Does Your Job Suck?

Before you do anything about your job, work out why it sucks. Is it because of minor issues that can be resolved? If so, resolve them! Talk to your manager. Make a proposal to change the issues. If something bothers you, it probably also bothers your colleagues. So, a sensible proposal to resolve the bothersome issue will probably be well received and acted upon. According to Vanessa K. Bohns, assistant professor of Organizational Behavior at the ILR School at Cornell University, we are far more persuasive than we realise. This means that a sensible proposal that will result in a better working environment is more likely to get results than you may believe.

Four Core Needs

Unfortunately, if you dislike your job, it is probably for bigger reasons than a workplace irritant. Research by Tony Schwartz, chief executive of The Energy Project and Christine Porath, associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, found that people are much more satisfied and productive at work when four core needs are met:

  1. Physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work.
  2. Emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions.
  3. Mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done
  4. Spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

If you feel that some or all of these core needs are not being met at work, it is unlikely that a simple proposal to your boss will be sufficient to change your situation to any significant degree. More drastic action is necessary. For this, you need a strategy for getting from where you are now to a better place professionally.

Strategy

You could, of course, keep your sucky job and hope for the best. Perhaps your capabilities will be recognised and you will be offered something better in your own company or elsewhere. Perhaps you will win the lottery. But, frankly, hoping that someone or something else will save you from your sucky job is not a good strategy. If anyone is going to save you, it will have to be you. Fortunately, you are awesome − a factor that will help considerably.

You could quit your job and then start looking for opportunities elsewhere. But, and let us be honest here, if that were a viable option in your mind, you would have done it already.

So, you need to formulate a strategy to flee your sucky job and put yourself into a better situation which may be a job, but it might also be going freelance, launching your own company, taking early pension or even becoming a househusband or housewife (let's use the term 'housespouse').

Finance and Family

The first thing you need to do is to work out your financial situation. What are your necessary expenses? What could you cut back on? Does your partner also work? Could you survive on her income alone (bear in mind that if one income is supporting the family, you could go into a lower tax bracket which would effectively be an increase in her income)? How would your partner feel about being the sole breadwinner temporarily or over the longer term?

Speaking of your partner, how does she feel about your situation? Will she be supportive if you decide to take drastic action? If you plan to start a company, is she supportive of the idea? Either of these choices will probably mean that you will be working longer hours than you are now for less income. Indeed, initially you will almost certainly be spending more on your business − from registering your business, buying materials, investing in marketing and so on − than you will be bringing in.

Indeed, most entrepreneurs I know (including myself) are divorcees, often at least partially as a result of the stress a new business places on the family. Those, whose marriages or relationships were not wrecked by launching a business, communicated more openly with their partners and sought their partner's full support from the beginning.

Also, be open with your children. A job change, temporary unemployment or launching your own business will affect them more than you realise. The family may have to cut back on things − but don't worry too much about this. Kids are remarkably understanding when given the opportunity to understand and they will probably want to help.

Once you have sorted out your financial situation and discussed your work situation with your family, you can start to make a plan and consider your options.

Options to a Sucky Job

1. Keep it

You could, of course, just keep your sucky job. It's not a good option, but it is an option and one we have to bear in mind.

2. Find a better job

Finding a better, more engaging job is a much better option. You could, of course, quit your current job and look for a new job full time. But that depends on your financial situation and your nerve. For many people, this is simply too risky.

Alternatively, you can start looking for a better job in your free time. Don't do this haphazardly. Make a plan and stick to it. Decide to devote a set amount of time to job hunting and stick to the schedule. Check LinkedIn for loads of advice on writing your CV (résumé in US English), applying for jobs and acing your interview.

Your first step is probably not to jump in and look for jobs. Rather, browse job listings for a few days to get a sense of what you would like to do. Collect all interesting jobs, even those you are not qualified for. Review them to work out three things:

  1. What kinds of positions interest you? Think not just about the positions, but other factors such as the kinds of organisations you'd like to work at, amount of travel necessary and the location.
  2. Do you need to do anything to be qualified for those jobs? Perhaps you will need training or a qualification to get the kind of job you want. If so, look into evening classes or on-line courses you can take. These will take up time now, but will pay off soon in terms of a better job.
  3. How to formulate your CV, LinkedIn profile and job applications. Once you know what kind of work you'd like to do, you should update your CV to fit the position. But don't stop there. Update your LinkedIn profile to reinforce your CV. Any interested employer will check you out on LinkedIn before contacting you. Moreover, some employers start their search by using keyword searches on LinkedIn. So be sure your profile includes the right keywords.

Once you are prepared, you can start your search. But do not necessarily neglect your current employer. Are there job openings in your company that are of interest? Would you be willing to continue to work in your company if you had a more engaging position and a better boss? If so, start your search internally. 

Keep a schedule and keep at it. If you've not applied for a job in a while, it will take some practice to get up to scratch. Indeed, I would suggest that you try not to apply for your dream job immediately. Rather, apply for an okay job or two where you can make and learn from your mistakes. That way, you'll be more confident when you interview for your dream job.

Do not neglect friends and family. Let people know you are looking for a job. In spite of all the technology and science in hiring these days, personal connection still counts the most. I once got a job because my then wife mentioned to a friend that I was looking for one. She told her husband and he contacted me.

 3. Do your own thing

Perhaps you would like to start your own business or become a freelancer. If so, do your research before you quit your job and draw up a plan. What do you want to do? What do you need in order to do it. At the very least, you will probably need to register your business. Depending on the business and your location, you may also need a licence or other permissions.

You should also work out the costs involved and be sure you have sufficient income to get started. If you have never run your own business, do some research. You may be able to sign up for workshops in your area (many governments are trying to encourage entrepreneurialism and so many adult education institutes have relevant classes). You can certainly find books and information on the Internet.

If you need certification or training, see if you can take courses in your own time, perhaps in the evenings or by doing an on-line course. The more preparations you make before quitting your job, the less time you will spend without a steady income after you quit.

See if you could practice your business at work. For instance, if you want to become a coach, check with your boss or someone in human resources to see if there might be a need for a coach with your skillset within the company. You might find that you can spend part of your work time coaching people. This will help you build your coaching skills and provide you with experience you can share with potential clients.

You might also consider whether or not you could begin your new business while still being employed in your current job. Frankly, this is probably against company rules. But, if you are careful, it might work. It's a route I took for launching my first business. At the time, I ran the communications department in a newspaper and magazine publishing house in Bangkok.  I was bored silly by my job and there were no prospects for promotion (sadly, this is because I was very good at it and the CEO's compliments suggested that he did not want to move me from the position any time soon).

I decided to set up a small business doing copywriting and advertising translations from Thai to English. I signed up with a business service centre that provided secretarial services. I had some name cards made up, with the business service centre's contact detail, and sent sales letters to every advertising agency in Bangkok. Interested clients contacted the business service centre whos staff understood my situation. They told the client I was not available and then discretely called me and I called the client back. It worked and very well.

Soon, all of my free time was spent on my new business and I knew I could confidently quit the publishing job and focus on my business. Such behaviour was commonplace in Bangkok's booming economy of the early 90s. Nevertheless, if I had been caught out, I could rightfully have been fired for my actions.

4. Radical alternatives

If you have sufficient income that you do not need a salary, perhaps because you have considerable savings or because your partner's salary is enough for the family's needs, you could consider leaving your job and doing something different. For example, if your partner has a great job with lot of potential, you might offer to become a housespouse. That would allow your partner to devote more time to her career assured that you are looking after the family when she needs to work late or travel.

In this scenario, you could and should look into additional activities. For example, you could do part time volunteer work in local non-profits. If you have a hobby that you are passionate about, such as painting, you can spend more time on it and even take classes to improve your skills. These activities will give more meaning to your life.

Before you take this route, plan carefully. Work out the finances and prepare a budget that takes into account your expected income after you quit your job. Don't worry about material sacrifices. You can be a better parent to your children if you are happier and spend more time with them than if you have a miserable job and have no time for them, even if buy them more expensive clothes and toys while miserable. Really, I cannot stress this enough. Kids may like material goods, especially  if they see lots of compelling advertising. But they really value love, time and you.

Perhaps you do not have a family and decide to take a couple of years off and travel the world looking for odd jobs along the way. Great! But do your research before you hand in your notice. A lot of people have done this, so you can find a lot of information on the web. However, if you plan to make your income through a travel blog, be aware that there is a lot of competition and you will need to do something unique in order to stand out.

Plan

As you may have noticed, the common theme in all of these options is planning. No matter what you decide to do, plan before you hand in your notice. That will reduce the risk and leave you feeling more confident about your eventual choice.

Moreover, once you have a plan and start working towards it, your situation will not be so miserable. You may have a sucky job, but you are taking concrete action to leave it and do something more engaging and more meaningful.

However, do not make the mistake of fantasising about how nice your new job or new business will be. Doing so will distract you from taking the steps necessary to getting that job. Instead, focus on each step, from research to job application. And before you know it, you will be in that new job or launching your company.

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