- Workers are quitting in droves.
- If you need your job right now but don’t love it, there are easy ways to make it more engaging.
- Figure out which tasks energize you, find opportunities to grow, and remember this is temporary.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
If you hate your job, you may fantasize more than occasionally about quitting – or about never working anywhere again and spending your days volunteering at a local park: the fresh air, the giving back to society, the freedom from a desk.
But for most of us, this foliage-forward fantasy will never become reality. That’s because work, even work you hate, is a way to make money. And most of us need money. That can be a hard pill to swallow when it seems like everyone around you – wisely or not – is ditching their day jobs, in what some economists are calling “the Great Resignation.” After all, Gallup found that 51% of workers in its global analysis of about 112,000 business units were not engaged at work. No wonder 3.6 million US employees left their jobs in May.
Fortunately for those feeling stuck, there are paths to greater job satisfaction and less job-related misery that don’t involve overhauling your life and career but do involve reflection and self-evaluation. The payoff can be big: You can do just a few things differently and show up at work every morning without a pit in your stomach or a chip on your shoulder. And it’ll probably make you better at your job, too.
Different industries and jobs within them vary greatly in how much they can be shaped. But it’s possible to create opportunities for learning and growing in almost any work context. It’s about adopting a “mindset of curiosity,” Ron Friedman, a social psychologist and the author of “Decoding Greatness,” said.
It helps that workers have a lot of leverage over employers right now and that retailers, especially, are making big efforts to lure and retain talent amid a labor shortage. As in: Your employer probably wants to keep you engaged.
Consider this your guide to being happier at work – without too much effort.
Identify your strengths
The process of identifying your strengths is a journey, and likely a career-long one. Gallup has a quiz you can do, as does the positive-psychology nonprofit VIA. And as scary as it may sound, it’s a good idea to ask your managers, colleagues, and even friends what your strengths are. Laura Sapp, the human-resources chief of IAC – a $13 billion holding company with brands like Angi and The Daily Beast – said that doing so prompted her to try her hand at recruiting.
Once you’ve got a lead on what you’re uniquely good at, like project management or talent development, then figure out how to tweak your job so it allows those skills to shine. This is a form of job crafting, or changing your job to make it more personally meaningful.
At first, your boss might be hesitant to let you restructure your work responsibilities, said Dan Cable, a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School and the author of “Alive at Work.” But they’re likely to come around as they see the quality of your output improve and you become more engaged with your work. After all, when we do work that aligns with our strengths, we tend to be more productive.
Conduct an ‘energy audit’
You might feel like every aspect of your job is aggravating. But you might actually enjoy some of this stuff.
Sarah Greenberg, a psychotherapist and leadership coach, encourages anyone feeling stuck in this way to track how they feel while doing different tasks. She calls it an “energy audit.” To use her example, maybe brainstorming a project report leaves you feeling jazzed up, while the writing part makes you want to bang your head against the wall, or vice versa. Depending on your seniority, you might be able to enlist a colleague’s help with the portion of the task you can’t stand.
Another outcome of the energy audit may be that you realize there are parts of your job that do engage you – that’s why it’s so important to disentangle parts of your work. Doing so may also help you avoid leaving prematurely.
Find opportunities to get better
Hating work is something of a Catch-22: You’re less motivated to learn and grow, but learning is “the very thing you need in order to both get another position and stay engaged in your current job,” Friedman said.
Here’s an example of how it might work. If you’re a people manager, and you just sat through a particularly inspiring meeting, you might dissect a recording of that meeting to pinpoint what the presenter did so well and how you might lead similarly.
Keep in mind that this is generally something you’ll need to initiate yourself.
“If you’re waiting for your manager or the people on your team to see your need for growth,” Friedman said, “you’re going to be sorely disappointed.”
Remember this isn’t forever
You aren’t stuck here for good.
In her coaching practice, Greenberg once advised someone who worked at a startup and was frustrated because he worked long hours and didn’t get to spend much time with his family. But with Greenberg’s help, the person started to see his job as a “bridge” to the life and career he really wanted.
In other words, the job was only temporary – and it was the best way to support his family at that moment. With that image of a bridge in mind, Greenberg said, “it was just much easier for him to accept the current situation and feel pretty good about the sacrifices he was making at the time.”
You also don’t have to plan the rest of your career right now. Amy Nguyen, a career-happiness coach, asks her clients to list one to three things that they want to focus on each week, and then identify the accomplishment they’d be most proud of. That way, Nguyen said, you’ll be “laser-focused” and “will not feel overwhelmed.”
Taking this kind of shorter-term approach can be liberating. This job may not satisfy you for the rest of your career. But for the next month, or maybe even the next year, you can make it work. And if you do decide to quit, you can do so without burning bridges.