what do do when you’re frustrated at work

I frequently hear from people who are frustrated and unhappy with their job and want to know how to change whatever is making them unhappy. Often what they’re chafing against is some inherent aspect of their job or their manager or their workplace, but they don’t want to accept that; they want to know how they can make it different.

Sometimes the answer is:  You can’t.

For instance, I once worked with someone who regularly got frustrated and resentful over several demands of the job and did everything he could to resist them — such as ignoring explicit instructions because he disagreed with them, neglecting projects he didn’t like working on, and constantly arguing about the things he didn’t like. He was trying to force the job to become something it wasn’t. Rather than seeing the job for what it was and deciding if it was something he was willing to live with or not, he kept himself (and others around him) miserable by engaging in a constant struggle against the job’s reality.

Ultimately, it didn’t really matter that he wanted the job to be something different. It wasn’t, and I didn’t want it to become what he wanted to make it. Eventually I asked him to decide whether he wanted the job as it was, knowing that the things he was complaining about weren’t going to change, and pointed out that there was no shame in deciding that it just wasn’t for him. It completely changed the dynamic for both of us — it stopped being adversarial and transformed into two people figuring out the best way to deal with the reality of a situation.

The key here is being honest with yourself and with your manager. Talk about the things that are making you unhappy and find out if there’s any chance of changing them. Sometimes there is. Other times, there isn’t. Once you know that, you can make good decisions for yourself with full information.

This doesn’t always mean that you should choose to leave if you don’t get the changes you’d like. Often you can end up deciding that you can live with the situation, reasonably happily. Sometimes simply knowing what will and won’t change makes things easier to deal with, and you can surprise yourself by ending up pretty content with things that drove you crazy when you were focused on battling them.

The idea is that you want to commit to seeing and dealing with reality, and to making decisions based on what really is, not on what you want it to be. That’s a lot more satisfying than a constant struggle.

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. Kit

    I am not sure if there is anything that I can do. I like my job, my duties are boring but doable and I enjoy the people whom I work with and adore my manager. My work reports are sent to other managers to provide feedback to their employees; I think there may be one manager who even looks at those reports, and none of them actually provides any feedback. I feel that my work is completely wasted, and that I could come in and spend the entire day surfing the Internet or playing games if I could (work computers have restrictions that prevents such activities) and that no one would notice that they had received no reports recently. I dont think this is going to change; afterall, their direct report cant stay on their shoulder making sure they do what they are supposed to. I feel useless and unnecessary at work.

  2. Kit

    To my manager yes, and he has brought it up with his director, but it kind of pretty much stops there. He is almost as frustrated as I am, but his hands are tied within his role as well. With his position, what I do is just a minor part of what he is responsible for, so he always has other things to work on. Reviews are also considered a minor part of the other managers duties, and since it is a new feature that was only implemented when I was promoted up for it, many of them never incorporated into their active days. I was prepared to be bored or even hated by coworkers, but to have everything I do with my day be completely be ignored is driving me insane. I also feel for the employees who wont find out until their yearly review that they have been doing things incorrectly for over a year. With the training that people are put in for on a yearly basis, and the amount of time and resources spent during my day every day, its costing the company money at the very least. If I quit, whoever comes in my place will I think be stuck in the same situation.

  3. Ask a Manager

    If your manager sympathizes with you, then he at least should provide you with feedback. And many, many people get the majority of their feedback (or their only feedback) from their manager, so that seems like it should be not unbearable.

    But otherwise, I think you're in exactly the situation my article on U.S. News spoke to — you have to decide if you can be content with the job as it is.

  4. Kit

    Its what I have been thinking about for a long time. With the job market being the way it is, I am glad just to have work, since my father had trouble finding one for over two years and he really cant stand his. I like working with customers and customer service, regardless of retail or whatever, because I like being helpful and useful. At this point, I am wishing I could afford to go back to being a phone rep because there was atleast some job satisfaction associated with the work, whereas now, I am counting the days until I go on vacation. I recently got my degree, hence the promotion, but fields where I have experience and would not be considered over or under qualified are also not hiring unless I want to move, which I cant do because my husband earns more and we cant afford to sell our house right now. Thank you for your response, it may be sad but its nice to know I am not the only one.

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