what to do when you’re stuck in a job you hate

Everyone has moments of frustration with their jobs, but if you’re been unhappy for months, that’s not normal or healthy – and it’s a flag that you should be thinking about whether you need to make a change. But sometimes it’s not that simple: You might be convinced you won’t be able to find a job that pays as well, or worry that you won’t be qualified for other work, or might simply be having trouble getting the mental energy to launch a job search while you’re still mired in a job that makes you unhappy.

When you’re feeling stuck in a job that’s wrong for you, here are six steps that can help you get un-stuck.

1. Ask yourself what would need to change for you to be happy. Would it take getting an entirely new boss? A switch away from a project with a difficult client? Some relief in your workload? A raise? Not every problem can be fixed (or is likely to be fixed), but quite a few are surmountable, and even just getting clarity on whether or not that’s the case can be useful in helping you think about next steps. And if you’re not even sure how to figure this question out, consider talking it through with a trusted mentor, who might be able to help you determine if asking for a change would be feasible.

2. Be clear-headed about your bottom line. Spend some time thinking through what things matter most to you at work and what trade-offs you are and aren’t willing to make. Figuring out your bottom line can either push you to realize that you need to leave or help you get more comfortable with staying for a while. For instance, if you hate your manager but love the work you do, you might decide that you’d rather keep that job even if your manager is part of the deal. Or maybe you’ll decide that you’re willing to do less interesting work if it means getting a new boss. There are no right answers here; the idea is just to get really clear in your own mind about what matters most to you.

3. Don’t talk yourself into putting off job-searching if you know it’s really the right decision. Even when people are miserable at work and have been for a while, they often worry that they won’t be able to find another job that will pay them what they earn now, or with the same great commute they currently have, or that can match their great benefits. Or they worry about having to get used to a whole new job with new coworkers and a new manager — and what if the new job has similar problems or is even worse? Plus, job searching takes time and energy, and it can feel easier to simply stay put. But unless you’re very close to retirement, you’re going to have to change jobs at some point, so why not get a head start on it now and be miserable for less time?

4. Try launching a casual search. Launching a job search doesn’t have to be a massive production, with hours each night writing cover letters. It can be as simple as just looking around at what postings are out there, or putting out feelers to people in your network. If launching a full-scale search seems too daunting, try these smaller steps instead. You might start getting useful data about the market that will push you one way or the other, and even just taking small steps to move on can sometimes make an unhappy job more bearable.

5. If you do decide to search, be discreet. If you’re hate your job or your boss, you might be tempted to tell your boss you’re job-searching, thinking that you might get the satisfaction of being begged to stay. But if you reveal that you’re planning to leave before you have an offer in hand, you risk being pushed out now, before you’re ready to go, so don’t proclaim your search to your current employer.

6. Don’t quit without something lined up. If you’re itching to get out of your current work situation, you might be considering just resigning before you’ve secured a new job. But job searches can take a lot longer than you expect them to, and you might find yourself out of work for month or even a year or more. Moreover, it’s generally easier to get a new job when you’re still employed, because employers tend to prefer employed candidates.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 115 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly O*

    I think #3 has been the hardest one for me.

    Because even though I hate this job, and I’m doing something I said I never wanted to do, and I know it’s not the right fit for me in the long OR short terms, it’s still a job. Benefits are decent, pay is better than I had before, and it’s not a horrible commute.

    Plus, if you put yourself out there, you risk rejection. For me, learning to not take that rejection personally has been the biggest challenge. It’s worth it in the long run to take the risk, but it’s so very, very easy to get comfortable. (Add in having a child to support and knowing your family can’t make it on the one income, and it’s a whole level of stress that is tempting to avoid.)

    I know leaving is the right thing, but gosh it’s hard to take that first step.

    1. Jennifer*

      Seconded. Also, I really don’t qualify for a whole lot of jobs here (i.e. my organization, which is the one big employer in town) in the first place and I’m really not at all psyched about the idea of looking for jobs in other towns where I’d have to commute. And the few jobs I’m finding all require customer service, which I am wanting to get out of in the first place. I definitely feel stuck. And it’s easier to change my heart and make myself love serving and helping (at gunpoint if necessary? har) than it is to find something that fits my soul. I don’t have a smorgasboard of options here because there’s few jobs that will let you hide in a corner not dealing with the public.

        1. jersey anon*

          that was supposed to be “try accounting.” I have been at my job for 10+ years. I am director level. Pay is ok, benefits and commute are good but morale stinks. Am somewhat bored and burnt-out and do not like my new boss. But I cannot give up the pension/401(k) benefits. If they ever got rid of those, I would be out of here.

          1. Jennifer*

            Alas, I suck at math, so that rules me out of accounting–and any job involving the word “payroll” or “budget.”

          2. De Minimis*

            I think the main advantage in accounting is that there can be a variety of paths, but once you pick one it’s hard to move off of it, especially after a few years.

            My job itself I like okay, I just hate my location, but an okay job is only one management change away from becoming a horrible job.

    2. Adam*

      Yep. I know this problem all too well. Getting cozy in a current job makes it hard to leave, even if you know for an inarguable fact that you need to get out.

      And I have such a hard time applying for jobs that I might actually want or that would at least be better for me. I’ve been staring at this cover letter for the last day and a half that I just can’t seem to finish for some reason, and there’s a psychological barrier of feeling like I couldn’t really do the job, they’ll figure that out and sack me and I’ll be horribly embarrassed, blah blah blah.

      So every time I try to finish it I “get distracted” by something on the internet, or text message, or whatever. Anything so I don’t have to actually complete an application!

      1. JMegan*

        Oh, me too. I actually track jobs that I did NOT apply to, and the reasons for it. Often it’s because the salary is too low, or the commute is too long, or some other legit reason. But other times it’s really just because I didn’t get around to it. Ideally of course there wouldn’t be any of those, but sometimes it just becomes too overwhelming to do the work required to get myself out of my current job.

      2. Chloe Silverado*

        I’m so glad I’m not alone in that feeling! I’m ready to move on but every time I find a job I would be interested in, I think of all the reasons why I’m not qualified and/or that if I managed to get hired I’d fail. I’m sure that’s not true, but it’s such a hard feeling to shake!!

        1. Jennifer*

          Me as well. Except the job listings I am looking at are pretty clear on how much I don’t qualify.

        2. Adam*

          Yep, the crisis of confidence. I know how that goes. I can be looking over a job description and going down the list of requirements checking each one off no problem. But then I get to one little one, often a computer program I’ve never used or the fact that I don’t have quite the number of years experience they list, and suddenly I’m all “That’s it! They’ll never hire me because of that!”

          I know Alison has said in the past that job postings are more like wish lists and that quite often the applicant that gets hired is not an exact match for what the job posting originally listed, but in this market it feels hard not to think if you don’t have every box ticked you’re at a loss. A good job posting will usually make sure the non-negotiable must-have skills will be spelled out, but it’s hard not to see the ideal candidate they want as some mythical person that I am most definitely not. Haha!

          1. JustKatie*

            ^ ditto to all of the comments above. And regarding job descriptions being “wish lists”, it doesn’t help that the market is very tight in my field, and I’ve sat in on our interviewing process enough to see that every candidate we’ve hired exceeds the job requirements (and sometimes by quite a bit). It’s very discouraging.

              1. Yet Another Allison*

                Because she feels she would also need to exceed the job requirements for any job she goes after.

      3. Tina B*

        I feel that way too! I am having the hardest time writing cohesive cover letters and filling out job application questions. My current role has definitely negatively impacted my confidence…which should be reason enough to try harder to get out. I’m taking baby steps, but it’s hard to feel motivated.

        Best of luck to you and your job search!

      4. Anonyby*

        This. This is me right now. I also have a half-finished cover letter, and several missed opportunities because I couldn’t force myself to write.

        Though for me it’s not necessarily that the job is bad or that I hate it, it’s just not enough. And my confidence issues are from things in my personal life, rather than my job.

          1. Anonyby*

            Isn’t it amazing to find others going through the same thing, when you feel like you’re the only one?

            Good luck to you too!

    3. Ruthan*

      I feel you on the rejection thing. But remember, no one is going to force you to take a new job if you’re offered one*. You might as well have the option available.

      * unless someone at your current employer is a terrible human and fires you when they find out, but in that case, I hope you’d feel well shot of them.

  2. The Other Dawn*

    1. Ask yourself what would need to change for you to be happy.

    This is what I need to do right now. I know I’m unhappy, but can’t 100% put my finger on what actually needs to change. I have an idea, but I’m not 100% sure.

    There’s a possibility of another position opening up at my current company. It’s a management position, but it’s doing the same thing that I *think* I’m unhappy with now. I know I miss management, I miss the freedom of managing my own workload, and it would be more money. But I keep thinking that the kind of work itself is making me unhappy. And I’m not thrilled with my boss. If I took this job, I’d still be reporting to him and I’m not sure I could handle that in a management-type position. It will be worse than it is now. But then I think that maybe if I go back into management and get a higher salary, I’d be able to handle it. I just don’t know. Guess I need to think more on it.

    1. Leah*

      There was a study conducted about happiness. At random intervals during the day, an app on the person’s smart phone would send them an alert and prompt them to ask a series of questions relating to the moment that the alert went off:
      1) What were you doing?
      2) Is it something you have to do?
      3) Is it something you want to do?
      4) Were you thinking about that task while you were doing it?
      5) How happy were you on a scale of 1-10?

      There may have been more questions, but those are the ones I could remember. While this was studying broad concepts in happiness and focus, perhaps this could help you identify when in the day you are or are not happy. You could set your phone to buzz at a specific interval, say 30 mins, and just jot down quick notes about how you feel. Maybe a pattern will emerge after a week or two.

      I’ve recently been through the process of leaving a job and trying to figure out what I want to do in addition to what I am able to do. It’s a messy process. Just start making attempts and eventually you’ll get it.

  3. J-nonymous*

    I have a friend from a company I used to work at. I was miserable at that place and she is too. I left and she stayed, but she says she wants to leave. At the same time, she feels too demoralized to look for a new job.

    Any tips for how a friend can help another friend in this kind of situation?

    1. Kai*

      There may not be a lot you can do, other than just being supportive. As someone who’s been unsuccessfully trying to find a new job for over a year, I like it much better when my friends ask me about anything else–anything to get my mind off it. That, or send me links to jobs I might be interested in, or offer to serve as a reference (if it makes sense), without being pushy. I would recommend not asking how the job search is going every other day, and not providing advice unless it’s clear that’s what your friend wants. Get together and do something fun, to lift her spirits.

      1. Sarah*

        Agreed. Sometimes it can feel even worse when people ask about your job search, because then you feel like a failure for not landing a new gig yet. I’d let her bring it up if she wants to.

    2. The Real Ash*

      I suggest emailing her the link to this article. Those tips might help her get her job search started. And reading some of the comments here might help her realize that she’s not alone in this, and that there are resources available to help her.

      1. J-nonymous*

        I did. I hope it helps her. I don’t want to pressure her (in re: Kai’s message), but the demoralization worries me. This is a person with years and years experience in her field (and is really quite good), but who’s in the process of being beaten down by her current boss, to the point where she feels like she couldn’t qualify for anything.

        I know from firsthand experience that it took me a couple months to recover from that awful, toxic environment and I wasn’t even there for a full year. I worry that the longer she stays the more damage will be done (and need to be repaired).

        1. The Real Ash*

          Jeez, that’s sounds terrible. I would also suggest emailing her information about leaving abusive relationships as her boss sounds like an abusive spouse.

        2. Ruthan*

          Heck, email her a link to AAM generally — I found it super helpful in figuring out what a sane and healthy workplace looks like.

    3. Kelly O*

      To a point, this WAS me until recently.

      One really good interview helped raise my confidence level and reminded me that I actually have worth and value, and this awful experience is not representative of what I CAN do when given the tools and opportunities to actually succeed.

      It’s tough going from feeling like you’re being set up to fail, to actually failing, to feeling like a failure, to the inevitable downward spiral I found myself in. (Or what felt inevitable. Add in a couple of really difficult family things, and I was just emotionally and mentally shot for a while there.)

      It gets better. Try to find something to help get you a little confidence, even if it’s outside work. Remember you do have value, and that value is not at all tied to whatever you’re doing right now.

    4. ArtsNerd*

      J-nonymous, the BEST thing you can do – if the opportunity is available – is tell people in the field you know someone who is an excellent employee in XYZ areas, and deserves better employment than she has. And ask them to keep their ears open for employers looking for killer XYZ staff.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        To elaborate, referrals like this frequently get people interviews without requiring the same pressure to make their application materials totally stellar/stand out.

        I got my last job without ever writing a cover letter this way – email introduction from a friend/contact to job offer in 4 days.

        1. J-nonymous*

          That’s exactly how I got the position I have now after leaving the place my friend works at. I have offered and have reached out to contacts in the area as well, but most (including my current employer) do need a current resume. My friend is very stressed right now and has to work many long hours; she hasn’t sent me her resume yet because she feels it isn’t ready. I suspect that the overall sense of exhaustion at everything going on combined with the above-mentioned demoralization is keeping my friend from updating it and sending it to me (or anyone else).

          Not to make it sound like this advice isn’t great – it is! I’m going to continue to encourage her to update her resume, and get it out there.

          1. So Very Anonymous*

            Could you encourage her to send you her resume even if she thinks it isn’t “finished” so that you could “help her tweak it” or something like that? It may well be that the resume is fine but your friend is so beaten down that she thinks it isn’t good enough. Once you have the resume you can help build her back up by making suggestions and/or pointing out what she’s done well. I had a friend go through something like this (just completely, completely beaten down) and she was so stressed that she wasn’t even able to contact her references because she felt so bad about herself. I’ve felt that kind of demoralization, too, and it can be a big help to have a friend or colleague reinforce “you did X well, you’re good at X.” Which “critiquing” a resume can help you do.

            1. J-nonymous*

              I will try that. Thanks for the suggestion! I also reached out to a friend who is recruiting for two positions at a terrific organization. I think one of the positions is a terrific fit and I couldn’t recommend the hiring director more highly.

              1. Fact & Fiction*

                I was actually going to suggest doing this myself, so I am seconding So Very Anonymous’s suggestion. Wishing your friend much luck!

    5. Leah*

      Would the person who hires for her type of work at your office be the type of person to maybe look over your friend’s resume and talk to her a bit? Or maybe a recruiter in the area, even if the recruiter only takes more senior clients?

      Earlier this year, my friend sent me the contact info of a few people she knows who recruit in the field I am trying to move into. Only two of them responded to my email and one of those was not very useful. The other one seemed like he would not be helpful because he only hires C-level people in my field but I was wrong. He had taken the time to read over my info and in the end, the only advice he could give was, “Keep on doing what you’re doing.” Hearing a total stranger with experience in the field say, “You’re doing the right thing, the market just sucks.” has a lot more impact than hearing it from friends and family. Likewise, if there is something else your friend could be doing, it might be easier to hear from that person.

  4. TotesMaGoats*

    This couldn’t be more timely. I’d had several good weeks where things were going so well with upper management, to the point that I’d stopped looking because things were going so well. I thought…change on the horizon. Started looking again this morning. Sigh.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I know what you mean. Every once in awhile I get something interesting to do and think, “OK, I can do this. I can stay here.” But then I’m done with it and nothing else comes along, or my boss does something that aggravates me, and I realize it’s not going to get better. I’m just bored and unchallenged here, and I don’t see that changing due to the nature of my work.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Yep. That’s it exactly. There are days when I do absolutely nothing. Or I have one thing to do all day. It kills me.

        1. Lucy*

          Same with me! I was told when I was hired that this is a role one stays in for a year or two, and I’m rapidly approaching the year and a half mark. I used to think I could be open with my managers about possibilities of moving on (I work in a large hospital system), but that doesn’t seem wise.

      2. Nancy raygun*

        This is exactly the boat I’m in. I started here as a part timer and I didn’t have enough time to get bored at work. 3 years later I’m bored out of my mind 80% of the time and it’s aggravating my anxiety disorder. Sometimes an interesting project comes along but after it’s done I’m back to boredom. I’m trying to figure out if it’s the work, the environment, or just my personality that’s making an otherwise good job unbearable. I feel so ungrateful for wanting to leave, but I need to do it.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I know exactly what you mean about not being sure what the problem is. I’m in THAT boat right now. Just not sure what *exactly* would make me happy. I know some of it is my boss. Some is boredom and lack of a challenge. And the other is the type of work. After doing it for 17 years at another place I just don’t think I want to do it anymore.

          1. Kai*

            It’s so reassuring to hear about other people in the same boat as me. If I didn’t have a 1.5-hour commute (one way) to work, things wouldn’t feel as dismal, but besides that I’m just bored.

            1. Windchime*

              Oh wow, I can’t even imagine a commute this long. Well, actually, I can — I had to drive to a town about 20 miles away for training for five days in a row and it took me over 90 minutes to get there, due to traffic. I would hate, hate, hate having to do that on a daily basis. A commute like that wouldn’t even be tolerable for a job I loved, let alone a boring one.

            2. Felicia*

              My commute is the same length. I don’t hate (or love) my job, its’ alright, but a commute of this length makes even the best jobs worse.

    2. Jubilance*

      I went through that cycle several times – things are horrible, I dread dragging myself into work, but then things get better temporarily and I slack off on looking. I’ts a horrible cycle cause as soon as things get bad you wish you hadn’t ever stopped looking.

      1. Sidra*

        Haha, I did this a dozen times too – things would get a little better and I’d stop looking because “Hey, maybe this is the new normal!” … but it always went back. I stopped doing that and just kept looking – reminding myself that the upswing was temporary and I’d be mad at myself for not leaving already. I actually ended up putting in my notice right in the middle of one of those good times. I’m SO SO SO happy that I kept looking and left anyway. I think the good mood I was in from that phase at work helped me interview better and not come off as desperate!

    3. Fact & Fiction*

      I can totally relate to this in my own current contract (work-from-home) position. The ability to set my own hours and work when I want to is so attractive, and our upper management is so great at putting a positive spin on things that I keep putting my own search for a full-time position on the back burner because I figure things are finally getting better; only to find out that not so much. I interviewed for a position I would absolutely _love_ last week and am hoping I get a second interview for it soon. If not, however, it just illustrates how important it is for me to focus on finding something new that I love. Good luck in your own search!

    4. anon*

      Yeah, I was googling, “how to deal with a bully boss” this morning…

      YEAaaah. Not getting much sleep lately. Stressed out!

  5. Apollo Warbucks*

    I’ve been at my current firm for over 7 years and am so fed up with the work I do and the attitude of the managment but I’m well settled and it’s the best job I’ve ever had so whilst I’m looking the bar is set really high for what id consider moving for.

  6. Ali*

    I’m going through this at my job right now, so #1 just very much applies to me. I did not get a good hand dealt on the last schedule change (my old boss, now out of the company, made it, and my new boss told me he knows I didn’t get a fair shake), so the new boss has agreed with me to give me a better schedule this time around. I still have to work one less-than-desirable shift to make up for better hours and better days off, but working just one “blah” shift helps even out the fact that the other times, I’ll have good hours and I’ll have two days off after my evening shift.

    I am casually job searching, but I’m in a crowded/competitive field, so searching and getting interviews isn’t easy. I did an internship this summer and my supervisor talked to me today about a possible full-time offer. I was excited and will consider the job, but because they’re smaller and still in start-up mode, the pay would be very low and I doubt I’d be able to afford to take the job. It’s unfortunate because it would be a shift to a field I’d like to work in (so I kind of knew a pay cut would come based on that) and I like the company, their mission and my colleagues, but I worry that the pay will just never work. That said, the company is growing so I probably wouldn’t make that rate of pay forever. I feel so conflicted if the job comes through as to what to do. But at least since it’s not a guarantee, I can keep my decent paying full-time job and hope the better schedule changes my outlook. If nothing else, I can stay with my intern company regardless of the FT opportunity or even if I want it, so I can keep building experience in that other field.

  7. B*

    This was perfect timing for me. I almost did #6 because I was just done. But came to my senses which is a good thing because searching is taking much longer than I thought. Hating your job is a drain on your well-being. But so is searching as it can be very demoralizing when you are searching and searching to no avail. I’m not sure if that is the worst part or when you go on an interview and they act as if they could care less (checking email, phone, and not paying attention to your answers) or you can tell they already have someone and are just doing this because they have to or you think you did well but never hear from them.

  8. Anon for this one*

    I’m in this situation and to those discouraged I would add: don’t underestimate the emotional boost that taking even small actions to change your job situation can give you. Small steps can be morale boosters and lead to change, and can even help overcome some of the intimidating things that make looking for a new job so scary. I’m still in my unhappy job but am feeling much better about the prospect of finding something new and better. So please take to heart when AG writes that you don’t have to spend hours on cover letters each night.

    1. Nancy raygun*

      I totally agree. When I finally decided it was time to starting looking for a new job, I felt great. I rode that wave of awesome for a couple weeks. Unfortunately I’m afraid the wave is dying down and the ocean might kick me off my surfboard soon.

  9. Owls*

    All of the points in the article are so true. I was in a job for 6 years doing what I really like to do, but the director didn’t like me because, of all things, I wasn’t providing him with good social connections. I started with very little in the way of resources and objectives, but built my department into a highly functioning and visible operation. Still, I could never move forward in the eyes of this person. After completing a particularly difficult project, he gave me a raise…$1 p/h. I stuck with the job because I wanted to learn more about the field I was in, and I needed the income, pittance that it was. When my department was merged into another institution, I was offered a another undefined position, but said no thanks. Enough was enough. I got what I needed out of the place and am now freelancing. I don’t like the discomfort of uncertain income, but will never, ever miss the atmosphere I worked in and have absolutely no regrets about leaving. Sometimes the stars align where you can finally just take the plunge. Working in a toxic atmosphere is so terribly unhealthy.

  10. Enid*

    I’m finding it comforting (although maybe I shouldn’t?) that so many others are in the same situation, of knowing they need a new job but having a hard time motivating themselves to search. I’m just so nervous that I’ll end up in a worse position than I have now. Plus I’m so stressed out at the prospect of the interview process, which could be initiated at any moment as soon as I submit my application. I’m trying to remind myself that if I don’t want to accept the job, or even if I don’t want to do the interview, I can always say no, but that I should at least give myself the OPTION of saying yes by sending in my application.

    What is motivating me now is that last week, after I had almost talked myself into being content with my current job, I realized that the general environment there is always going to make me uncomfortable, and it’s getting worse and worse, and it’s not going to get better for me. I really need a change.

    1. Jennifer*

      I second this! What if it gets worse? What if they actually call for an interview? Hah, how dumb is that last one, I guess.

    2. Sidra*

      I was similarly SO WORRIED this would happen to me, especially since I had only been in Old Job for two years, and couldn’t afford the hit to my reputation if I left New Job so soon too. I was so bored all the time, and just couldn’t bear it if I was just trading things in for a different kind of boring. But yes, I was utterly terrified that things wouldn’t/couldn’t be better.

      However, in looking for new jobs, I was very skeptical and interviewed them right back, and met all of my future coworkers, and learned as much as I could about the companies I talked to. It looks like this method worked out as I really like New Job – it has boring aspects, but generally I feel very challenged and have a boss who encourages me to show initiative and go after things, and actively cares to prevent me from being bored. The culture is perfect for me too, which was a big problem I had with Old Job.

  11. Otter box*

    I’m stuck here. I kept my old job by transferring when I moved to a new city on the other side of the country to look for work in a field I actually want to work in, and it’s been almost two years now. I’ve been alternating between casually searching and more intensely searching and have submitted well over 100 applications. I’ve had only three interviews and no job offers. (For what it’s worth, I took Alison’s advice in her interview prep guide and asked my interviewers whether they had any reservations about me, and I got some excellent feedback. I was told that I interviewed well and my cover letter was excellent, but I just don’t have enough experience for certain tasks I’d have been responsible for, so they all ended up selecting other candidates instead. Unfortunately my current job is so all-consuming I haven’t had time to volunteer or intern to gain more experience.) I’m about ready to give up for good – if I don’t have a job lined up in the next few months, I don’t want to sign another year’s lease and I am thinking of moving back to my hometown, where opportunities are scarcer. I really just don’t care anymore. I’m lonely and homesick and I hate my job, and I’d rather hate my job where my friends and family are and the cost of living is a fraction what it is here.

    Sigh. Sorry for the rant, but I guess I’m just particularly depressed again today. It’s Monday after all :)

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Don’t be sorry. I totally understand what you’re saying. Someone I work with said a few weeks ago that she’s unhappy here, but she’s very thankful she has a good home life filled with friends and family; that makes the job bearable. I can’t imagine being unhappy at work AND being in a new location where you don’t know anyone. I hope things get better for you!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        One problem exasperates the other. It’s nasty.
        I hope things change for you, soon, Otter.

    2. Thomas W*

      You’ve shown incredible tenacity so far, otter. You’re stronger than you think and things are on the up. It’s not clear what the upswing will be … the job you want could present itself next week or next month … or maybe you will move home and be glad you did. :-) Hard to say. But the truth remains: this too shall pass.

  12. KLR*

    I’m in this position currently and only in my new job for a total of 4 months. I know exactly what is wrong, and it’s my manager. This is her first time managing someone in her life (she’s only a year older than me) and instead of treating me like I bring 4 or 5 years of experience to the position, I’ve been delegated to her assistant, with every detail of my daily workload nitpicked and micromanaged. It’s a small, small organization, where cronyism is rampant and my boss, who has been there a while, is buddy-buddy with her boss.

    I’m ready to have a sit-down talk with her and her boss to tell them that I’m not being allowed to perform the job that I was expecting to do when I was hired. But I have this crippling anxiety that speaking up will get me fired.
    I have zero autonomy. My boss wants me copied on every email. Recently, her new behavior has taken on an obsessive tone and she’s demanding to edit my email drafts before sending them out. I’m at the end of my rope–especially since she doesn’t take criticism well at all– which I attribute to her age and inexperience.

    Ug! Being in this sort of situation is the worst.

    1. some1*

      I’ve had two bosses that were managing people for the first time, both were promoted after my hire. You definitely have my sympathies. I wish Alison’s column was required reading and practicing for new managers.

    2. J-nonymous*

      Have you tried any of the suggestions Alison has posted before about bringing up issues that you have with how you’re being managed directly with your boss?

      You say she doesn’t take criticism well at all, but there are ways you can ask for feedback / get understanding as to why she’s micromanaging your work without directly criticizing her (and potentially risking backlash).

      1. KLR*

        I have tried a few of Allison’s suggestions, especially about being diligent with my work, making sure there are no mistakes, and clarifying, clarifying, clarifying. We’ve even had conversations where I’ve set future goals and expressed an interest in having more autonomy and responsibility for the direction of certain projects. And usually those conversations have been really positive. But once things are put into practice, those hovering behaviors start up again and she starts inserting herself into projects that I assumed were going well.

        She even takes it upon herself to set my work schedule for me. Today she cancelled all of my meetings and told me that I needed to go work on X project for the rest of the week, as if I wasn’t able to manage my daily work timeline on my own. She was a nanny before she broke into the industry; I can only assume that’s the type of behavior she resorts back to.

        1. J-nonymous*

          Yikes! That sounds awful! Do you have experience with this boss outside the 4 months you’ve reported to her? Is it possible that this is still a period during which you’re adjusting to each other’s work and communication styles?

          How frequently do you meet with her for one-on-one conversations? The only thing I would note is you say she inserts herself into projects you assumed were going well. What was the time-frame between the positive conversation you had and her reinserting herself into the project? Is there room for more frequent chats with her to keep her up-to-speed and make sure you and she are on the same page?

          1. Ted*

            My advice: ask for advice, over and over. I request permission, critiques, suggestions over and over ad nauseam.

            So far they LOVE IT, and don’t have to listen to them question my every breath. You can’t change people, so change yourself. They want mismanagement, give it to them.

            So stupid, but I need a paycheck and less stress.

            1. Ted*


              Some want to piss you off- do not react to the micro management, these type need to justify their jobs so they make work of finding fault.

            2. Yupjustdoit*

              I totally do this all the time. I’m only two months into my new job and I figured out very quickly how to manage my boss. He’s a horrible manager with an ego problem, but asking him questions about things I could absolutely and easily do myself has gone a long way toward making my work life easier. I’ve seen what happens if you don’t do what I’ve done. My colleague hasn’t learned how to manage the manager and her life is one misery after another at work. I really shouldn’t have to ask for permission and suggestions, but in this case it works and I just don’t care anymore so whatever. I need the money.

  13. Just Visiting*

    I’m in a weird situation because I don’t really care what kind of job I do or even who I do it with. I just don’t like to work full-time. I’ve had several part-time jobs that I’ve functioned great at, so well that I was switched to full-time. And it never fails, as soon as I go from working 3-4 days a week to five, it’s like a switch flips and I go from happy to miserable. Unfortunately, I was never able to give up that extra day of work, even if I offered to give up my benefits. My lifestyle is such that I can thrive on a part-time income, and with the ACA benefits are no longer the perk they once were. I keep saying that if I ever get into a part-time job again I will never allow myself to be bumped to full-time, however at one of the jobs it was made clear that if I didn’t go full-time I would have been let go. I’m sick of swapping jobs to find the perfect one that I can stand working at for five days a week. Unfortunately I’m at an age where employers assume that you need a full-time income, and most people don’t have this problem with full-time work.

    This might be more of a rant than an actual commentary on the article. It’s just frustrating to know that NO job might ever work for me, and the solution isn’t as easy as “find a new one.”

    1. Sidra*

      “Job share” positions (two people sharing 1 full-time position) are becoming more common. Maybe look into that? Also, are you being up-front with people in interviews that you ONLY want part-time work? If not, maybe it’s time to be blunt about it, and think of a good-sounding reason for preferring part-time work.

      1. Just Visiting*

        Yep, I’ve been doing that. Virtually every permanent job I’ve been applying for is part-time and I’ve been clear with my temp agencies that I will only accept part-time temp-to-hire or fixed-term full-time assignments. But so far I’ve only been getting the latter. I also brought up job sharing with my old job (my husband is unemployed and wanted to do this with me, he also prefers part-time work), but they said absolutely not. Even the few retail jobs I’ve had have tried to shuffle me into full-time as soon as possible. I hope I’m not being boastful, but I’m a really good worker. I can see why they want me full-time. I do tell them about my freelancing work (which is true, I do have freelancing work), but the main reason I want part-time is for my mental health and that’s not something you can disclose in an interview. One temp recruiter said “well, if you have a full-time job you won’t need to freelance anymore.” Argh, missing the point! With my last permanent job I couldn’t afford to lose my income entirely which is why I accepted the extra day. Maybe I just have to figure out a way to make enough freelancing that I don’t have to work for anyone else at all, although frankly, I would LIKE to have a part-time job.

        1. anon because whining*

          My apologies if you’ve already tried this avenue, but have you looked into government jobs? So many part time positions, for both professional and casual positions, and they often break it down to the quarter-hour.

          1. Just Visiting*

            Huh, didn’t know that! I’ve always heard it’s impossible to get hired for government work because it’s impossible to fire someone and nobody ever leaves. But now that I know, I’ll be looking! I’d really like a retail or warehouse job but with the professional jobs on my record, I never get call backs for them.

        2. Sidra*

          Have you tried lying? ;) Tell them you have to do elder-care, child-care, non-profit volunteer/board work, or something else that gives you a “legitimate” (to them) reason for working part time…. and then always turn down opportunities to work more than your desired hours. People will see you as a hard working person who simply CAN’T work full time ;). I’m all for honesty, but sometimes lying is an appropriate option and this is one of those times since you would be harming yourself to disclose it is for your mental health.

          I would also like to work part-time someday. I wish it was more acceptable/common to have part-time professional work. I’m an ambitious person, but dang I would LOVE to work 25-30 hours a week instead of 40-45!

          1. Just Visiting*

            Haha, well, I DID just get a position in my field that actually requires little face-time (though a lot of planning and preparation), and I’m planning on sort of over-blowing how much time this position requires in order to convince the hiring managers/agencies that I simply cannot work a 40-hour week. (This position + the background work for this position + other freelancing commitments + 25 hours at theoretical other job = over 40 hours, but since three of those things are things I enjoy doing that is okay.) Unfortunately, this second job is not enough to live on. Would that it were! So we’ll see if this works. I’m not going to take anything full-time unless it’s *perfect* or we get in dire financial straits, so it’s going to have to be good enough.

    2. Anonyby*

      If you’re willing to, maybe look at reception/AA positions? I’m seeing a lot of job ads for part-time positions around here (and am currently working in one!), and it’s frustrating me because I want to go full-time.

      1. Just Visiting*

        I’ve applied to a couple of them, but nobody’s biting yet, and a lot of them have the dreaded phrase “with possibility to go to full-time.” I realize that my part-time dreams are the opposite of what most people want and it makes me feel kinda bad. :(

        1. Lori*

          I am also in this position! I only want to work parttime, but I really dislike my current jobshare position -which pays great, is close to my home and occasionally allows me to work part of the day from home… Not to mention that I can still be contributing to their excellent pension plan! When I see other jobs that I would like to try, they are fulltime and usually a one hour commute each way with no work-from-home option. The closer parttime jobs would pay probably $10 to $15/ hour less. So, I keep reminding myself that this current job is giving me balance and benefits in the rest of my life that I am not willing to trade off (yet). Your comments are reminding me that I would probably be very unhappy if I did change to a fulltime job, even if I loved the work.

  14. Compliance Wonk*

    In my mid 20’s, I hated a job so much I was prepared to quit without having another one. Then I saw “Working Girl” in the theatre and thought “if she can do it, so can I!!” And it worked!! That silly movie motivated me to update my resume, connect with a headhunter and start a job search. I had a new job within six weeks and stayed at New Job for 18 years. You never know where the inspiration will come from…

  15. Emn*

    This is super well timed for me. Recently moved teams with the promise of doing X and ended up being made to do Y, which I hate. Now I’m trying to figure out how to approach my manager to see if doing X is a possibility.

  16. Milos*

    Hate is a very strong and powerful feeling and if that really is the appropriate feeling one experiences while at work, they absolutely must find a way to get out of there. We spend way too much time at work (and even working outside work hours) to do something we hate.

    While it is a job and pays the bills and it can suck at times, it shouldn’t produce anxiety and uneasiness and when it does, the time has come to part ways (strategically).

    1. Vicki*

      Anxiety and uneasiness are the simple problems.

      Headaches, weeping fits, screaming at friends and family, depression… are all too possible.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Plus sitting in the car crying before going in and trying to give yourself a pep talk before going into the building.

      2. Call Girl*

        I have hives on my back from the stress of my job. The place I got a job at is so dysfunctional that they are never going to change the culture. I physically struggle with walking in the door every morning.

  17. Leah*

    If you can’t leave, for whatever reason, see if you can negotiate for time off either as a one-off for a major project or as part of your benefits, possibly in place of a raise. I know that money sounds better to sock away as a cushion so you can quit, but also knowing that you can have more time to do something enjoyable can ease the awfulness.

  18. anon because whining*

    It’s the combination of 3 and 6 that suck the most for me. I have zero benefits (literally, zero…no PTO, no insurance, nothing) and I only make enough to live hand to mouth. I work two jobs, seven days a week, and right now I’m clocking about 65 hours altogether. I literally cannot afford to look for another job. I still do, but good luck to me if I actually get an interview (another challenge because I don’t know how I’m effing up my cover letters that I can’t even get interviews). There is a raise coming soon to my full-time job but it will turn into even an even worse hourly rate because my bosses think a salary – if that’s what will happen – is literally an all-access 24/7 pass to me, and I don’t get to have a say in how this raise should go – it’s literally “this will be your new pay rate.” And then a shaming lecture about how I should be grateful to have so much more responsibility for a measly wage for my workload, and that I should feel sorry for my bosses to have to spend so much on management labor dollars (YES, really. This happens every conference call). With no negotiation or discussion. Not to mention none of my raises have been fair so I doubt this one would have any significant impact. My last one was eaten up by taxes, so I’m still taking home the same as I was before.

    It sucks. I like my work but I hate everything else about my job – my bosses, the culture, the pay, the commute, everything. I feel so trapped in it. And I cannot get out of it.

  19. Upset*

    “6. Don’t quit without something lined up.”

    This really makes me mad. Why do I have to stay at my current job when I’m being abused and harassed by superiors and coworkers?

    1. This is me*

      You don’t have to stay. I think Alison was just trying to stress how difficult it can be to find another job in this economy (the U.S. at least). If you’re set financially for a while and/or you’re job is causing you undue stress or making you do something illegal, then you should of course get out whenever you feel you need to.

    2. Vicki*

      If you have enough money on the bank (or an understanding spouse with a job), you may decide that this item isn’t worth the impact on your mental health. I’ve known people who decided to quit with nothing new lined up. I’ve come close to doing that myself.

      Does your company offer EAP (Employee Assistance program)? If so, make an appointment and talk with a therapist/counselor. This may help you to better understand the pros and cons of staying vs leaving.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Alison does say that there are exceptions. For example when your health/well-being is at risk. I think you more than qualify.

      1. Ted*

        I agree with AAM, and I don’t always, but this is true. Often people most miserable at a job are those who shouldn’t just quit ( I am one, one income) because they have no back up income and that lack of support compounds misery. BUT THINK what being penniless feels like. REALLY. Don’t quit and screw yourself out of unemployment.

  20. Vicki*

    I’ve had this happen too many times. I start a job. I like it and I like my manager. We get along well, my manager understands me, my internal clients love me. All is good.

    Then we have a reorganization or my manager resigns. I get a new manager who doesn’t understand me and doesn’t understand what I do or the value of what I provide. He decides that I should do “something else” (something he understands that doesn’t fit my skills or interests).

    I start looking for a new job doing something I enjoy.
    Repeat ad nauseum over a 30 year “career”.

    The last time this happened was late 2011. I didn’t find something new quickly enough and got laid off (re-org to layoff: 4 months). It’s pretty much impossible to find a new job doing what I was doing before things fell apart ( a job I created based on what the company actually needed but didn’t think to hire for.)

    My first reaction after the stress of “You’re doing what now?? But you need what I do!” was a sense of utter relief. No more fighting the idiots who didn’t understand.

    Unfortunately for my bank account, the severance payment ran out 2 years ago, the Unemployment Insurance ran out this past December, and I’m still not certain what I ‘m looking for in terms of a job. (That’s not strictly true. I know exactly what I’m looking for. It’s Finding what I’m looking for that’s been difficult.)

  21. Rebecca*

    Would it take getting a new boss? A switch away from a project with a difficult client? Some relief in your workload? A raise?

    Answer: Yes. To all 4.

    Will any of these happen? Probably not. I’m looking for a new job.

  22. Carrie*

    I just am always concerned about #5, keeping your job search discreet. It’s so hard to do that when prospective employers want to check references. I mean, when you are asked if they can contact your current employer, you can say ‘no’, but I feel like if you do, it hurts you. I am sure potential employers would like current information, and if you say “no, I want to keep my job search discreet”, then do you come off as a sneak? I’m always paranoid about potential employers contacting my current one….

    1. MJH*

      I have gotten three out of four of my professional jobs without involving current supervisors (and the fourth one only found out because he had a church connection to a board member!). The others have been surprised when I hand in my resignation. Most employers that I’ve encountered are sympathetic to the need to be discreet and don’t see it as “sneaky.”

  23. Not So NewReader*

    I spent over a decade at Bad Job. It took some time to work through the PTSD, but part of my grief/crying has been that I gave these people some of the most important (formative) years of my life.

    I did it to ME. I convinced myself that if I tried X or Y or Z it would never work out. I convinced myself that a, b and c were huge hurdles for me.

    Part of the damage a toxic environment does is it tears down one’s thinking. The stinkin’ type thinking creeps in and eventually takes up residence. It sets up housekeeping.
    You might reknit yourself about the abuse in years to come, but you have lost time. And you can’t bring that back.

    Those of you in crappy situations, please make a promise to yourself. “I promise me that I will be out of here in one year.” ( Or whatever time frame.) And start, like Alison says, casually looking. Don’t make it a killer marathon. Don’t beat yourself up like your boss does. Spend an hour on Sunday. Spend 45 mins on Wednesday, etc.

    You know. Bosses/companies can screw us over and that is one problem. But when we do not bail ourselves out that is a bigger deal because we have let ourselves down. And really, if you cannot count on you, who are you going to count on?

    1. Ruffingit*

      Amen to all of this. It’s amazing how “I’ll just stay here awhile longer…” becomes staying for a decade and leaving on the verge of or during a nervous breakdown. It’s just not worth it. Break the job of job hunting down and start applying to one a week or whatever. So agree with NSNR here. Don’t waste your talent, time and creativity in a job that is only interested in sucking in and spitting out all three.

    2. Just Visiting*

      Yes. Absolutely. If a job is truly toxic then you owe it to yourself to quit even if you don’t have something else lined up. Don’t worry about breaking rule #6, if something is destroying you then you’re not obligated to stick it out for the sake of “professionalism.” Toxic situations convince you that you’re not good enough to escape from them, that’s why they’re toxic. It’s as true for jobs as it is for SOs.

      1. Jam Wheel*

        I bailed on a really toxic workplace (had poor management, unchallenging work, set up to fail, micromanagement, sexism, the whole 9 yrds) after 3.5 years after saving up the funds to do so. I may be in a rather interesting living situation now that no one in their right mind would choose to do at 37, but for all the stress/frustration of job searching and home life, it is miles better than the daily crying/anger jags directed at family and feelings of worthlessness at work. Friends tell me I sound better than I have in years. Time will tell if this move pans out, but I would rather be trying something new than giving more time to an awful, awful place.

        Also – it took me almost 6 months to detox from the former workplace and only since about June have I been able to look towards the future and explore new and exciting options. I went on some interviews in the spring and knew I wasn’t quite ready when I pitched another crying fit in the middle of the street one evening about having to interview for a similar position with a competitor. :/

        1. Just Visiting*

          I went on some interviews in the spring and knew I wasn’t quite ready when I pitched another crying fit in the middle of the street one evening about having to interview for a similar position with a competitor.

          Ugh, yeah, THIS. I stupidly agreed to go on an interview set up for me by one of my agencies that was the exact same job I had in my old city. (I had told them I didn’t want similar work, or full-time work, but these people don’t listen.) I didn’t sleep at all the night before, had a mini-panic attack on the way to the interview, and flubbed the interview accidentally-on-purpose. Right now I’m living on my stockpile of money, slowing down the depletion of funds with freelancing and temp gigs, and couldn’t be happier. Some people here would be horrified at this kind of lifestyle but it’s working for now. There are so many things more important than continuous employment.

  24. Willow Sunstar*

    Number three was very hard for me, but I was in a job that had over more than a year morphed into something that was a lot more single-faceted than the job I had been hired for. Our old dept. got dissolved due to a restructuring and replaced by a completely new dept. where we were doing one task out of several that we had been doing previously. I waited it out to see if I would like the changes or not. I wound up being bored to death doing the same thing all day.

    Two of my coworkers hated the changes, and the new manager, but they’re older than me (by a lot, and I’m 39) and were afraid to look for jobs in other companies. Well, one of them has a hearing problem and will retire in a year anyway, so she’s just going to wait it out.

    I do wish that we had been offered the chance to transfer to another dept. by HR. I was not allowed to leave the company because I’m taking money from them to attend MBA school. However, I did search for jobs within the company and finally got one after interviewing for several. So I will say that it is worth it if you can find another job before you quit your old one.

  25. Christina*

    I’m stuck doing a job I absolutely hate. It’s accounting with payroll. Acct rec. And Acct payable. The girl doing it left it a mess. I go by what little notes she left and I’m a horrible wreck at work always in fear of screwing up. I am only temporary helping til they find someone but I’ve been stuck for a month doing this. It’s so bad that I get sick from the stress and dr. Has put me on zoloft.

  26. Shelby*

    I’ve been with my employer for 16 years and it had it’s moments, but now I’ve reached a point where I no longer want to be here. I was put in a department (without an option) I didn’t want to be in. Every since coming here, it’s been nothing but problems and I have a another secretary constantly stirring the pot.

    Where I used to enjoy coming to work, that’s no longer the case. I’ve applied for tons of positions (internally) and not secured one. My reputation is good, get excellent reviews, but I want out and can’t seem to get out. Feel that I am being blocked because I do the work of two assistants – it would create an inconvenience to leave or promote.

    Because I can’t leave/promote, I’ve decided to leave the company. It isn’t something that scares me because my desire to leave is that intense. Some days are better than others – today not so good. When it hits, it just washes over me. My exit can’t come soon enough and I don’t know how to deal with my feelings. Has anyone out there been here and how did you handle it?

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