Editor's note: This article ran originally on the personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly. It has been reprinted here with permission.
Over the summer, I read a book that likened a miserable job to hanging onto the edge of a cliff. I thought it was an appropriate analogy. Like most people, I’ve been there, and that’s totally what it feels like. You know you have to let go, but letting go is scary. You could land in a better spot, or you could meet your ruin.
The author argued that sometimes letting go of that cliff is gradual, but once you do, you usually experience success. She had examples, but I imagine there are plenty of “letting go” stories that didn’t turn out so well.
Still, I’m a fan of letting go of things that don’t serve you well. I also understand that some don’t feel this is an option — for financial reasons or otherwise. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: How do you know when you’re on the edge of a cliff? What can you do about a job you hate, and how do your finances fit into the equation?
4 signs you’re over your job
You feel taken advantage of
In my experience, this is the first sign that you’re mentally done with your job: you feel more than just unappreciated; you feel your boss is taking advantage of you. It’s one thing to not get a pat on the back; it’s another to feel you’re being manipulated.
In my own experience, failing to speak up for myself has led to this situation. Some bosses viewed me as the good little worker bee who didn’t give them trouble. Thus, if they had outrageous demands, I was the first person they’d go to, because I was the easiest. I’ve learned to slowly break myself of this meekness and set a boundary between being a pushover and being a hard worker.
A study from Florida State University backs up my experience. It found that when given an unreasonable amount or type of work, loyal, dutiful employees became jaded. When workers felt they were being taken advantage of, researchers found a 50 percent decline in “helping behavior” and a 35 percent increase in “anger at supervisors.”
Getting fired doesn’t sound too bad
I was once contracted on a project known throughout its company for being, frankly, a s*&t show. Workers were expected to put in 50 hours a week for no other reason than to showcase their dedication. The project was so miserable, even seemingly kind colleagues would throw each other under the bus if it meant saving themselves. My cube mate, Ron, hated the project.
Once, I went to pick something up from the printer and found Ron’s resume in the lower tray. I discreetly handed it to back him. Slightly embarrassed, he laughed:
“Wow. That shows you how much I care about getting fired.”
If getting fired doesn’t sound too bad, it’s probably time to let go of that cliff.
(Side note: Ron did let go. Shortly after, he found his dream job and moved to Hawaii. An extreme but inspirational example.)
You purposely slack off
That Florida State study also found that hard workers had a 25 percent decrease in productivity when they felt they were being asked to do too much.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve been there. In the past, I’ve purposely slacked off due to resentment. I was angry, frustrated and stressed out, and to protest, I passive-aggressively put in less effort. This is a really dumb thing to do, because it doesn’t really get the point across. Instead of being sympathetic to your dissatisfaction, your boss is more likely to focus on the fact that you’ve turned into a slacker. Also, work ethic is something I mostly cultivate for myself. So submitting half-assed work is doing myself a disservice.
You feel stuck
It’s a terrible feeling: the desire to move forward when your current situation is holding you back. You feel captive, and the more captive you feel, the more frustrated you get.
To me, this is the primary sign it’s time to let go. I don’t cope well with feeling stuck.
But letting go means different things for different people; my mom, for example, has felt stuck at a job, and her “letting go” was more of an emotional process. More on that later.
5 things you can do about it Find something better
If you feel taken advantage of, you probably feel undervalued. If you think you have a lot to offer a company, perhaps you can find something better.
However, you also have to consider what exactly would make you feel valued. For some people, that’s not always money. It might mean a better position or more time off or simply more praise. Finding something better might mean earning less, in which case, you have to weigh the practical factors with the emotional ones.
Example: When I was a technical writer, I felt stuck. I knew the chance of switching careers and earning less money was high. So I asked myself some questions:
- What’s the likely difference in the amount of money I’ll be earning?
- How long am I willing to earn less before I decide to go back to a dissatisfying, but more lucrative, career?
- What lifestyle comforts am I willing to give up?
- How hard would it be to return to that career? How much would I earn upon reentry?
- Is it worth the difference in salary to try doing something I love?
Unless your job is weighing on your health, which does happen, it might be best to gradually un-stick yourself from a sticky situation. You can definitely take the plunge, and that might work for you, too. But the other option is getting your feet wet and gradually easing into unfamiliar waters.
“Easing in” might mean finding part-time work somewhere else, until you can let go of your job completely. It might mean searching for another job in your free time.
Change your job without quitting
Can your feeling stuck be remedied by working from home? Would you be happier with a different schedule? If there are simple changes that could drastically improve your work life, it might be worth negotiating them with your boss before deciding to quit altogether.
There’s also the option of applying for a different position. If what you hate is something specific — your boss, your work environment, a project — perhaps it’s not a bad idea to simply change your position at your current organization.
Especially if you haven’t been there long, staying at the same company might also be better for building your resume.
There have been at least a few times in my working life where I felt overworked and underpaid only to realize this was easily fixed with a simple conversation. Asking for a raise can be awkward, but many times, you won’t get one (at least not for a while) unless you ask.
Lately, I’ve been working on speaking up about my frustrations. I don’t throw a fit, but I’m learning to make issues known in a polite and diplomatic way. A few things have helped in airing my grievances effectively:
- Don’t get personal. I make the situation the issue, not my boss or the company. If I’m not getting paid enough, for example, I’ll bring up the issue of those darn budget cuts rather than blaming my supervisors or their decisions.
- Be honest. Your boss is a human being, so he or she can probably relate to why something bothers you. It might not hurt to simply be honest about the issue, but avoid talking about how it makes you feel and instead focus on why, logically, the situation doesn’t work for you: Not getting a raise affects your budget. Tackling another project keeps you from spending time with your spouse. I was once honest about a time issue with my boss, and he responded: “Yeah, come to think of it, don’t send me anything after 6pm. My wife’s been complaining that I work too much.”
- Emphasize your work ethic. I try to remind my boss that I enjoy my job and that I’ll continue to put in loads of effort. I feel like this eases any concern that I’m only interested in what I’m owed and not what I can contribute.
Change your outlook My mom has a story about the power of changing your outlook. She realizes this isn’t the best option for everyone, but sometimes, it is. I asked her to guest write about it:
“I used to work in retail — a job that was supposed to be a stepping stone. But before I knew it, I was there for seven years and growing increasingly dissatisfied and ungrateful. So I asked myself, ‘Do I change my environment or my outlook?’At that moment that I realized I had over-stepped this stone! So, I chose ‘change my environment.’ I went back to school to improve my chances of getting a better job. And that’s how I ended up at [my current] office job.
I was excited about my new job, and I enjoyed the work. But a year later, a new supervisor and new co-workers changed the atmosphere. It got so bad, I allowed it to affect my home life, which I regret to this day. So I found myself asking the same question: ‘Do I change environment or outlook?’ I felt unappreciated and ignored by the new supervisor and taken advantage of by co-workers. I chose, this time, to change my way of thinking, because I liked the work I was doing, and I had to think about providing for my young family at the time. I did my best to not allow my coworkers or environment get to me. I did my work and went home. Eventually, things got better.
Looking back, choosing to change my way of thinking not only helped me to overcome that work environment but also to grow as a person.”Comment on this story
My mom weighed the pros and cons of staying versus leaving and decided that staying was the best decision, financially and career-wise. At work, she shifted her focus to her family. She says it’s a decision that’s served her well.
Most of us have had a job that made us feel stuck.
What did you choose to do about it, and how did you consider your finances when making your choice?
Kristin Wong is a freelance blogger who frequently writes about relationships for MSN’s The Heart Beat blog. she has written for television, web, and occasionally, sketch comedy.