should I leave my awful job with great pay and great benefits?

A reader writes:

I work for the largest employer in region and have been in my current job for over four years. For four years, I have been telling myself that my job will get better but it hasn’t. My employer is a mess with constant scandals in the news, reorganizations and firings with no explanations, and poor outcomes. In my role, I am being underutilized, don’t have enough work to keep me busy, and have no one to advocate for me due to the numerous leadership changes. The morale is terrible at work and I feel like this job is destroying my self-confidence and sucking the life out of me. When I actually have work related to what I was hired to do, I enjoy the work. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, so most days I hate my job. For reference, I was in my previous position for 10 years and supervised 22 individuals and oversaw numerous multi-million dollar projects at a time. Now I don’t supervise anyone and my projects are much smaller.

However, my job works great for my family and personal life. My job pays very well (especially given how little work I have), has great health insurance, and lots of vacation and sick time. I am also part of the state retirement system which I already have 17 years into, and if I stayed in my job for 13 more years I could retire with 30 years of service at age 55. I also have significant flexibility with my hours which allows me to pick up my elementary age kids from school, attend school events during the day, etc.

Do I stay at my current job because it works well for my family, has great pay and benefits, and I can potentially retire young or is it time for me to look for a new job? Unfortunately, I know I will not find another job in this region that pays as well or has as good of benefits. We moved here four years ago to be close to our families and do not want to move out of the area as we love our personal lives here. If I should stay in my current job, what strategies should I employ to make my work days more enjoyable and tolerable?

I get a lot of “should I stay or should I go?” questions and my answer is usually “you have nothing to lose by looking around — and applying other places doesn’t commit you to leaving.” And while I think that’s true here too, I suspect you know what you’re talking about when you say you won’t find another job in your area with benefits like this, particularly the retirement benefits. But it wouldn’t hurt to look around and make sure that’s true because if you’re able to find something that gets pretty close, presumably that would change your calculation significantly.

My answer to these types of questions is also normally “when a job is destroying your self-confidence and sucking the life out of you, it’s time to go” … but it’s also true that sometimes there are ways to mentally reframe things for yourself so that’s not happening.

Sometimes you can decide that you’re just going to see your job as a job, that you’re being paid to be there and do the work you’re assigned rather than investing any more deeply than that. In theory, you could decide to accept that the many downsides of the job aren’t going to change, to stop caring that they won’t, and to focus on the reasons you’ve chosen to be there anyway. That’s easier said than done, but when you can pull it off, it can be a pretty powerful change.

But you’re also not a failure if you can’t do that! Sometimes things are bad enough that it’s truly impossible to do that. Or you might be the type of person who simply won’t be happy if you have to go to a job every day that you can’t be invested in. But in that case, I do think that you should seriously consider leaving. If you were just saying “meh, I don’t like it here,” that would be different — and the upsides to you still might make it worthwhile to stay. But you’re saying you’re miserable and it’s affecting your mental health. If there’s no way to change that, I do think you need to get out.

If that’s the case, keep in mind that the choice here isn’t between (a) being miserable but well paid with health insurance and (b) being happy but poorly paid and with no benefits. It’s probably between (a) being miserable but well paid with great benefits and (b) being happy with pay/benefits that are decent but just not as unusually stellar as you have now. In other words, the gap between what you get if you stay and what you get it if you leave is probably smaller than you might be fearing.

{ 181 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloan Kittering*

    I had to remind myself at my last job that great benefits (for the most part – leave may be the exception) are just money. My previous employer offered great retirement benefits that I couldn’t match, which kept me in place for a while – but ultimately by finding a job that allowed me to move up and make more salary, I got the equivalent benefit. And didn’t have to keep working at a place I was tired of.

    1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

      I agree that this is almost always the case, and I hate to go “wait, but sandwiches!” but depending on how stellar the health insurance is it might be worth staying for.
      If OP has, or has a family history of, a serious health condition, the difference between middling and platinum level health insurance is amazing. I’ve personally stayed at my current job for years in large part because the health insurance is a type of golden handcuffs. The difference between my excellent insurance and my husband’s good insurance is notable, and given that many providers limit their patient base to customers of certain insurers, and even certain plans, even with a higher salary you can’t always buy your way to better care.

      1. ToS*

        This is an element of the sitcom, Speechless, you know it’s a reality when it’s written into the family plotline on a sitcom as a point of reality.

  2. Antilles*

    “Sometimes you can decide that you’re just going to see your job as a job, that you’re being paid to be there and do the work you’re assigned rather than investing any more deeply than that. ”
    A similar way to think about it is to basically consider that your job essentially ‘funds’ the rest of your life. The great pay, generous vacation, incredible flexibility, and early retirement is buying a LOT of time with your kids that you probably wouldn’t get in a more normal 9 to 5 style job.
    Is that worth it? Maybe, maybe not. But mentally reframing it as “I’m doing this meh thing for 40 hours a week because it lets the other 128 hours be awesome” can sometimes really help make things a lot more bearable.

    1. Treecat*

      This resonates with me a lot. I have some of the same situation as the OP, but with the distinctions switched around a bit. My job doesn’t have great pay, but it has great benefits, great flexibility, and colleagues I love. I don’t love my work (I find it tedious and uninteresting, mostly), and my organization has made it clear they’re not really going to meaningfully support our department, which is a hit to morale. However, I’m like Allison said: it’s just a job. It’s a paycheck and health insurance and when I walk out the door at the end of the day I immediately forget everything about work until I’m back the next morning. I’m okay with this setup. I don’t know if you would be OP, but I think it’s worth at least considering if this is a reframe you can do.

    2. Mrs. D*

      Yes! Reframing things in this way may help relieve some of the mental burden this job is putting on you. When you get into a pattern of looking at the negative, sometimes it’s hard to regain perspective and see any of the positive.

      I definitely understand the need to have your skill set being utilized, and it can be incredibly demoralizing when you don’t get that outlet/satisfaction. I wonder if finding a cause to volunteer for might also help you regain your sense of purpose without the need to find another job. It sounds like your job gives you plenty of opportunity and time to pursue interests outside of work. Perhaps finding a non-profit in your area to volunteer at could help reestablish that job satisfaction?

      1. WellRed*

        Is it really meh, though? “destroying self-confidence” “sucking the life” “hate my job” I am all for reframing where appropriate and applicable, but lots of jobs are NOT described this way. Don’t normalize it.

      2. CMart*

        OP, this is how I live/feel about my life, but my “meh” seems WAY less intense than your “meh”.

        A un-stimulating job with a good commute, nice coworkers, amazing work/life balance etc… is 3,000% better for me than a job where I feel like I’m making a difference or am highly respected. But being kind of bored and apathetic about my work doesn’t crush my soul. It doesn’t make me say things like “my self-confidence is being destroyed” or “the life is being sucked out of me”. I’m just kind of disengaged for 8-9 hours a day.

        Is the work environment truly so awful that even if you tell yourself “I’m putting up with this so the other 2/3 of my life is awesome” that you’ll still feel like you’re being sucked dry and more worthless by the day? Because that’s not putting up with “meh.”

        Or is it that it’s a matter of reframing the entire situation? Will you get your confidence back if you just say “eff it, this job doesn’t really matter and the fact that I’m not RockStar ChangeAgent doesn’t say anything about who I am as a person. I’m fine.”? Will the life come back into your cheeks if you walk in the door and just shrug, happily click over to AAM to see what’s new for the day, and do some meal planning or whatever in your spare time?

      3. ToS*

        This is likely shared below, and can help with perspective-taking: If you feel stuck, quietly apply for a job you *might* want. Size things up. Even updating your resume can make you feel less *stuck*. Also – are there other positions with Large Employer? In a desirable department? That might help.

        Also, if you are feeling *meh* is there room for volunteering? Working with a cause can put some wind in your sails, even it’s just an hour or two a week. Bonus if your employer has some sort of outreach that supports this.

      4. RecoveringSWO*

        Here’s my perspective, I hope it helps with reframing/decision making. I’ve been in the opposite of your situation twice*–really ridiculously cool work that was extremely fast-paced that I excelled in and management publicly praised my work. That part was so satisfying. But in both cases, the long hours and under-compensation zapped the motivation right out of me.

        People would often ask me what doing cool job was like, because it was so unique. My response, “It’s 10% completely amazing tasks that you literally could not do in any other job. But the other 90% is pure hell.” After a while, even during that 10% of cool tasks I’d be thinking to myself, “if I just had a 40 hr work week, I’d have way more time to do cool stuff on my own, instead of relying on these little moments to provide satisfaction.”

        Yes, your state pension might not stay intact through retirement. But I suggest trying to reframe and spend time building new skills/distance learning at work before hanging it up.

        *I completely changed fields after first cool job, so imagine my chagrin when I realized that I fell into a similar trap. I left 2nd job after 6 months.

    3. Green*

      Yes; this helped me when I switched from an exciting and extremely high paying job with no free time to a still-very-good paying job that is somewhat-less-exciting with organizational annoyances but good work/life balance. I was used to the “high” from a high stakes, exciting job so I struggled with enjoying the less exciting job.

      Instead I re-framed it as getting my excitement and enjoyment from travel, nonprofit work, concerts, books, etc. that I now have both money to fund AND time to do. For some people, their jobs provide them with tremendous personal satisfaction and meaning. For me, my outside-work life provides me with tremendous personal satisfaction and meaning, and my job enables me to do that without annoying me too much. :)

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I did this when I had drifted into data and financial support. It was often tedious and had many annoyances, especially when I was working for a very toxic boss.
        I kept trying to find a better job, of course, and in the meantime developed a few hobbies such that I had enjoyable activities 2 or 3 times a week. This was the difference between being happy and fulfilled, and being a miserable person in a bad job. :)

    4. Anon for this*

      If you leave out 40 hours of sleep/wk (when you’re hopefully unconscious) it’s actually 88 hours/wk of awesome.

          1. NYWeasel*

            I would love to average 40 hours of sleeep a week! Right now I range between 6-7.5, with the occasional 4 hour night, and even that seems like I’m prioritizing sleep since I get up, go to work, come home and go to sleep “early”, and I still can’t block off a full 8 hours. The obstacles right now are (A) long work hours, (B) longish commute, and (C) all the stuff that gets ignored bc I’m working late needing to get done when I have a shorter day.

                1. NYWeasel*

                  And now I realize the 40 is just under 6 hours per night. That’s what I get for trying to do maths first thing in the am after not enough sleep!

            1. TardyTardis*

              6 hours a night is still 42 hours per week. (My primary school was very intense on the multiplication tables).

      1. boop the first*

        It’s also assuming that those 88 hours are awesome, and not just extra time where you’re exhausted and tired.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      The retirement package at 55 is also a huge plus when considering this job. That’s so rare nowadays.

        1. Starbuck*

          I’ve been tracking the Oregon PERS news for a while and don’t see very many optimistic takes, from either side. But not every state is managed that way, they may indeed be able to count on it.

    6. PhyllisB*

      I agree. I used to work as a long distance operator, and really did not enjoy the work. The pay was great, vacation and holidays very generous (of course I had to work a lot of Christmas, Easter, ect. but I knew that going in.) When they closed the local office I was offered a chance to transfer, but instead I took a buy-out and went home because my children were young, and I would have had a round trip 4 hour commute (2 hours each way) or I would have had to find an apartment and stay and come home on my days off. I didn’t want to do that, either (young children) especially since I had 9 years to retirement, and my husband could not transfer with his job. So, I took my buy-out and went home. I have done other work that I got more satisfaction from, but no vacation and benefits. The kicker is, 6 months after I made this decision my husband’s place of business closed (auto plant) and HE is the one who ended up having to go somewhere else and coming home on his days off. AND since they were trying shrink the work force, the phone company started giving people bonus years to get them to retire and out the door. If I had just stayed two more years, I could have retired will full benefits instead of a partial one like I have now. I realize this is not your specific issue, but what I’m saying things change. Perhaps some of the PTB that make things so miserable will move to another area, or retire and the landscape will change. However, like Alison says, there’s no harm in looking.

    7. PizzaSquared*

      This is basically the boat I’m in now. I have a super boring job working on stuff I don’t care about. But I get paid a lot, don’t have much stress that needs to extend beyond working hours, and have a very flexible schedule. I’ve also had much more interesting jobs that took up much more of my time and mental capacity, and paid worse. With that context, I’d take my current situation any day. Sometimes I have to chant to myself “it’s just work. it’s just work” when I get frustrated, but I’ve mostly internalized it now. My job is not my life. It enables me to have a great life outside of business hours.

  3. Tiny Orchid*

    Also, since it’s the largest employer in the region, I wonder whether there might be internal transfers that could be a good option – keep the pay, seniority, retirement benefits, etc. but move to a group that’s less of a hot mess.

    1. jb*

      Yes, this. If you decide to stay, make as many marginal improvements as possible (try to work under the least worst boss, on the least-dysfunctional projects, etc).

    2. TardyTardis*

      However, if there are a lot of firings and reorganizations, who’s the say the LW’s job is actually secure?

  4. Dee*

    It sounds like you think the job is doing permanent harm to you. If that’s the case, I think you should look at leaving. Like Allison said, it’s not necessarily a choice between what you have now and something terrible. The other option might be less flexible, but if the end result is that you’re happier when you’re with your family, wouldn’t it be worth it?

    And to play complete devil’s advocate to myself, nothing wrong with staying in a job for the money. If they’re not using your skills in the best manner, that’s on them, not you.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I was in a similar situation to OP – great salary and benefits, a lot of flexibility which was great when I had babies/small kids. Even though I loved the projects I got to run, my skills went underused a significant portion of the time between projects. Then I was laid off. When (if) I get a job again, I know I won’t have that kind of flexibility, and probably not the salary or benefits, so I’m really hoping the next job will have work I really enjoy and enough of it to keep me busy.

      If you have a lot of down time, the thing I recommend that I really wish I had done is use it for something that will advance your career. Training classes, primarily, since big organizations tend to have them available to employees. If you don’t have down time and it’s all busy filler work in between relevant projects, maybe come up with a reward system for yourself, for getting through the tedium. Whatever works as a treat – $5 toward a splurge item, a fancy coffee, a snack you don’t normally get. Bribe yourself, using the money you’re already earning doing this stuff. My friend used to talk about her hourly pay in terms of omakase sushi at her favorite restaurant.

      But if the environment is really that unstable, I’d be job-hunting anyway just to see what’s out there (something else I should have done!).

      1. Maze*

        Are any of the employer offered training classes actually good? At both my current and my previous job they were horrible and I’m someone who enjoys learning and I liked going to actual school classes.

    1. Cochrane*

      No kidding. There are readers who are un/underemployed for whom the OP’s description sounds like paradise. Good pay? Great benefits? Generous PTO? State retirement benefits? Gimme that!

      Especially if you’ve got a family to provide and consider for, your luxury of choice went out the window long ago.

      1. Angelinha*

        That seems a little extreme. Choice is a luxury that a lot of people don’t have, but the mere fact of having a family doesn’t automatically rule it out.

      2. BRR*

        The “it could be worse” advice isn’t always the best advice though. My job pays well, has good benefits, and is so toxic that it has done a real amount of damage to my mental and physical health. I would take a pay and/or benefits cut for a better job. Sometimes I think the first question in this type of situation is “Can I afford to leave my awful job?”

        1. Cathy Gale*

          I cosign this. Paying for antihypertensive drugs and using your weekends to try to repair from the stress is not worth the money. Big difference between boring jobby job, and abusive hateful environment where numerous people are needing medical and psychiatric help. I worked at the latter.

      3. Project Manager*

        This is the same as saying that you can’t complain about anything because someone else always has it worse. Of course, that’s true – someone will always have it worse than you. But that doesn’t mean that your unhappiness isn’t real and important. This blog wouldn’t exist if readers’ happiness didn’t matter and Alison’s only advice would be “suck it up and be grateful that you have a job because there are starving children out there.”

        I agree – as an outsider it seems that OP has some great perks that need to be factored in when making any decisions. But that doesn’t mean that OP’s unhappiness shouldn’t also be a factor.

        1. nonymous*

          This so much. My parents both came from impoverished backgrounds and drilled it into my head to be grateful and thankful for all my opportunities. As an adult I understand that they considered the life we had a huge success compared to their own expectations and experiences. But there’s also part of me left wondering why they never bothered to look around and see that standards were drastically different in my childhood.

          On a practical level, now in my 30s, I have to be very conscious in group work/volunteer situations that I am not taking on duties “for the greater good” at great personal expense (and outside norms).

      4. CMart*

        My gut instinct was “is OP high?? STAY OMG. How soul-crushing can this job possibly be?!”

        But that said–Alison might have a real point that OP’s choice might not be between “soul crushing job but cushy everything else” and “job I like but destroying my family’s financial and emotional stability”. Taking a pay cut in order to be happier is extremely common, and taking a minor to medium benefits cut might not be that different.

        So if OP can find a job with perfectly fine, if not stellar health coverage, and pick up their kids from school every day but maybe not attend every midday classroom recital, then why not make those tradeoffs in order to not feel soul-crushed?

      5. Nanani*

        This sounds like the job equivalent of “finish the food you hate/is actively making you sick because some kids are starving somewhere else”

        Doesn’t work with food, doesn’t work with jobs.

        1. Cochrane*

          The food analogy is an apt one. I remember years ago reading an interview with fitness guru Jack LaLanne and the question of his favorite food came up. His reply was “it’s simple. If a food is good for me, it is my favorite food. If I don’t have a taste for it, I develop a taste for it”.

          To bring it back around to the OP, the job may not be fulfilling but if it’s giving you all of those high points that so many people would jump for no questions asked and is providing for your family, I would think long and hard about leaving that behind.

          The advice downthread about reframing the job and just seeing it as a means to finance the rest of your life is excellent. That would be my advice as well.

        2. Cheapskate*

          Agreed. And at least with jobs, leaving your job means you open up a space for someone else who might be happier in that role. So if anything, it’s a positive thing to look elsewhere if you can.

      6. beth*

        This is really easy to say, because many of us would happily put up with a lot for benefits and pay like that. But ‘a lot’ doesn’t mean ‘literally anything’, and when the job is actively destroying your mental health, that has to be factored in. It sounds like OP’s job is the monkey’s paw of employment–it technically gives everything that anyone would wish for in a job, but comes with a major catch that ruins the whole thing in spite of that.

      7. Gaia*

        Look, I’ve put up with crap for great pay (because I needed it at the time) but I’ve also decided to leave great pay and benefits because I was literally dying inside every day.

        Both are valid options and neither are negated by someone else’s situation. I’ve also been (currently am!) unemployed and underemployed and always thought I’d never turn down amazing pay and benefits because I was treated poorly. That was a false notion built on the idea that pay and benefits should buy me tolerating abuse. It doesn’t and it shouldn’t.

        1. NYWeasel*

          I’ve been in both situations as well, and I think the key is to figure out what you really want.

          I loved some of the most boring jobs ever because it freed me up to do amazing creative stuff outside of the office. I would spend my down time at work thinking about the stuff I was going to do outside of the office, and knowing that I had enough money and good insurance was a huge weight off my mind. OTOH, I’ve also left good jobs that were quite “survivable” bc they were ultimately bringing me down and making me miserable.

          I would assess whether there was anything that brings me joy outside the office that I want to expand upon or if I’m energized specifically by the work I do. I think that answer provides you with clearer direction than hearing a bunch of people sharing conflicting opinions based on situations that may be very different from yours.

      8. Bea*

        Solid advice!

        Dear Everyone,

        If you have bedbugs, don’t complain and want change because there is a homeless epidemic.

        If your employer offers free lunch, don’t have the audacity to complain that you’re allergic or worse need other options due to religion.

        If he hits you, just deal with it. Some people never even have the luxury of a partner! Don’t you see all these people who can’t get a date on Bumble?!

        Seriously, stop shaming others for not having “bad enough” problems. There is always someone who has it worse. It’s okay to feel dissatisfied and upset by any crappy situation your life hands you.

        1. Cochrane*

          Asking for advice in a forum like this is asking “what would you do?” to both Allison and the commentariat. Being a parent myself and viewing everything through that lens, I’m going to give the same reality check that I would give myself in that situation. If it takes care of my family, that’s the top priority, full stop. Anything else can be mitigated or managed. Down the road when I don’t have small children that depend on me is the time to re-examine the situation in light of shifted priorities.

          No shame, just my two cents.

          1. Cathy Gale*

            That’s good, if it’s not toxic. When it’s truly toxic, eg bullying, sociopathic management and harassment, it’s too much and can harm a person and their bond with their family. Mine is constantly telling me how much healthier and happier I seem after leaving the job, and how worried they were about me. If you had asked me 2 years ago I had the same framing you’re describing. Ultimately I think it’s important to check the grass on the other side when the job is unpleasant, because often there are better options. The extra money and benefits aren’t so great when you’re sick and unhappy.

    2. Mephyle*

      At its worst a soul-crushing job can be like an abusive relationship. Would we counsel a person to stay in a relationship in which they’re being abused but they have financial security?
      Whether the job is at the point where it’s damaging them as much as an abusive relationship is something for OP to evaluate and decide

      1. Hobbit*

        I agree.
        Also, when someone tells me “it could be worse”, I respond with ” well it could be better too!” OP only you and your family can decide what’s right for your family. If I was in your position, I would start job hunting, maybe in the same company, but a different department. Also, if possible, talk with a financial expert to see what can be done, if you do get another job, to see if early retirement is/could be an option for you.

      2. Jennifer*

        I don’t know, but a friend of mine has been in a verbally (at least, I’m not too sure if it’s physical) relationship for 30+ years and he always has a much better job than she does and she’s usually only able to get crap temp secretarial jobs with no insurance.

        Not being able to take care of yourself if you leave is an issue. Sigh.

  5. Sara*

    I vote for getting REALLY creative about reframing, while you are still in the job. Take it on as a challenge — are there new skills you could learn/practice at work? Is there a project you could do in the downtime? (I wrote books and blog posts on a job, and a friend of mine taught herself to be a cartoonist.) Can you develop a mindfulness practice? Etc etc. It’s amazing what is possible to fit in during/around a job, and then when you look at the whole picture, the job becomes valuable because of how it contributes to the whole. There’s really no down side to doing this… if it works, it works, and if not, you can still leave the job for something else, but meanwhile you’ve earned the decent salary and gotten the time with your kids while exploring.

    1. Treecat*

      A friend of mine has written two novels during her work downtime! (She works as a front-desk receptionist, for probably ~40% of her workday she is just a butt in a chair giving directions.)

      1. Treecat*

        er, “a butt in a chair giving directions” should be “a butt in a chair occasionally giving directions to people who walk in the door.”

    2. Jo*

      I am curious about the writing books & blog posts on a job… Did your employer not care? I work in higher ed and my schedule alternates between being super busy to not sure what to do with my time. I have thought about working on a blog, but wasn’t sure if that was feasible to do while at work.

      1. Amber T*

        When I was a receptionist, it could have been feasible some of the time. Certain things had to take priority – obviously guests had to be greeted, phones had to be answered, certain daily tasks that fell to reception had to be done, random projects that got passed along sporadically too. What was on my computer screen could be seen by everyone who walked by, guests included, so it was fine to look at Facebook/personal email/shop on Amazon/whatever, but I wouldn’t leave it open if I was looking away from my computer for longer than five seconds (answering the phone, greeting guests, helping someone out, etc.). I think one of our current receptionists just always has a tab open with CNN and switches to that.

        I think if you have a Word doc open to write and edit, that would be easy and feasible. I think going knees deep in editing the layout of the website might be more difficult.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I put writing projects and lists in my gmail drafts. It makes it easy to work on them at home or at work. I only work on them during lunch though.

      2. Kelsi*

        It probably varies by employer. I’ve been in a position where the boss explicitly told me I could craft/do homework/work on other things when they didn’t have specific work for me (it was a job where a lot happened the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes of my shift, but the hours between were sitting at a desk, occasionally pointing someone towards the bathroom). Alternately, I’ve been in a position where I was expected to “look busy” but would have been in trouble if anyone figured out my “looking busy” in slow times was working on personal stuff. (Don’t ask me what I was actually supposed to do…just generate work out of thin air, I guess?)

        Few employers are going to be as laissez-faire as my first example above, but it might be worth asking colleagues how they handle it, to get a feel for the culture of what’s acceptable.

      3. miss_chevious*

        Do be careful about working on creative projects on company equipment — many places (public and private) have clauses in the employment handbook that grant them ownership of projects done with company materials. You don’t want to do something successful that then transfers ownership to your employer.

    3. Angelinha*

      Just a note that she said she’s part of the state retirement system, which most likely means she’s a public employee. There are generally ethics codes that prevent you from writing a book or working on any substantial personal or professional project that’s unrelated to state service.

      1. Not a Mere Device*

        That has room for a broad range of self-teaching and the like: online tutorials and classes in Excel, a foreign language, or any academic subject from archeology to zoology. Depending on the specific rules, if writing a novel for (hopefully) paid publication is a problem, LW might still be okay working on something entirely noncommercial, like practicing drawing, writing fiction and posting it for free online, or Wikipedia editing.

    4. Blue Anne*

      I had a massive spreadsheet in which I was simulating a world full of fantasy races over millennia. I had all the different races, their characteristics, how much of the population in hundreds of cities was each race, diseases, wars, magical disasters caused by mana concentration from uncontrolled magical individuals in locations which culturally did not allow them to be trained… what percentage of half-dwarf males are Chosen by the God of Thieves?

      Looked like I was working on some really impressive forecasts.

      1. Atalanta Sans Apples*

        Uh, this is truly amazing. Were you doing this as part of a game, or a story, or is this just the sort of thing you do for fun? I want to hear more!

        1. Blue Anne*

          Just for fun! At one point I was thinking of running a game based in the universe, but it didn’t materialize. It was a cool little world, though.

    5. M. Albertine*

      I did this in my last job with the golden handcuffs. I used my downtime on (through the employer) to pick up Excel and Access skills, which benefited both my current employer and my own toolbox. That and other out-of-the-box projects really helped quell the boredom while I was on my year+ long search for a job that came anywhere close to my compensation package.

  6. Doug Judy*

    Sympathy OP. As a working parent, it is hard to walk away from a job where you have the flexibility to spend time with your kids. In addition to the other suggestions, maybe you could find a volunteer project to work on to meet that element of feeling fulfilled in your work.

    1. PIVOT*

      I totally agree with finding volunteer work! One of the things I do at my job is graphic design, but I don’t have a lot of creative freedom because everything has to stay on-brand and relatively dialed down, which can be quite tedious. I have taken on some volunteer design work for a non-profit I believe in, as well as for groups my kids are involved with, and this variety has given me a lot more creative fulfillment, as well as the satisfaction of providing a valuable service for highly appreciative recipients. Bonus: I am able to do some of these projects in my down-time at work.

    2. nonymous*

      OP said that she is a civil servant. If there is not much going on and she wants to be away from her regular working group, I’d also recommend looking into what volunteer opportunities exist on the clock. Some examples would be if there is a formal volunteering program (I know someone who has permission to volunteer at the local school regularly during work hours), as a committee rep (my org has committees for specific areas of scientific interest as well as a “green team” ), community outreach representing the org (my neighbor gets credit for the time he spends representing the City in neighborhood outreach events), short-term coverage of vacancies – stuff like that.

      OP obviously has to decide what is best for her personal situation, but it doesn’t have to be “take this job or leave it”, there might be a way to reduce the unhealthy aspects to some truly tolerable level. And even if the job is so toxic/soul-sucking that leaving is the best choice, at least she can be confident that all options were investigated.

  7. Celeste*

    I know this situation well. It’s really unfortunate that some jobs have so much going for them except professional fulfillment. Only you can decide how heavily to prioritize that feature.

    It’s okay to think of the future and how your needs might change once you aren’t driving kids any longer. By high school there aren’t many daytime events, and you might not even need to pick them up if they can ride the bus home and stay by themselves and then drive home. It might make sense to plan for a move when your kids get to the next stage.

    It might also be really great to think about exactly what kind of work you might like to do with the skills you’ve gained, rather than just look for a job where you’re busier during the day or just have a more pleasant culture. Are there classes you can take now, to position yourself? Or would you be helped with a higher credential?

    I think you can stay where you are and make the most of your benefits at this stage in your family’s life, while planning for your next step. You might also consider trying to move into work at a college or university in your area. Most of them let children of employees get a huge tuition discount, and some of them even participate in tuition discounts with a list of other schools across the country. So even if you had some losses in benefits by moving to that different job, you’d be gaining a big one that your current employer can’t offer.

    1. Ender*

      I second the idea of staying while the kids are young. Set yourself a date in the future when you will reassess. Maybe when the youngest leaves elementary school. Having that end date in sight will make it more tolerable.

  8. Anon even though I doubt my boss reads AAM*

    Can you look for another job that would keep you in the state retirement system, so those benefits would transfer over? I also agree with finding some other way to spend your time at work, discreetly if necessary.

    I’m in a similar position in that my job is very boring, there’s not enough for me to do, particularly stuff that challenges me and uses my skills, but at the same time it’s very flexible, I can “WFH” often (I put that in quotes because there’s not enough work for me to be working), and it pays pretty well. I’m the mom to a toddler so having that flexibility is great. But I also am planning on moving in 9 months so there’s sort of an end date in mind to make it more palatable. I’m not sure I could look at 13 more years of this.

  9. Anon for this one*

    I’m in a similar position – my employer isn’t a mess, and I don’t hate my job, but I don’t love it any more either. Several years ago I decided I’d be happier with a different job and I looked around some, but nothing clicked. And now, as I look at my estimated retirement benefits, and take off basically any time I want to, and see how much my friends are paying to insure their families, I am so grateful that I stayed where I am.

  10. nnn*

    Things for LW to think about/research:
    – Do any other employers in your area have good pension plans? If yes, could you get yourself trained to do the kind of work they need?
    – What other employers are on this state retirement system? Do any of them have jobs you can do or you could be trained to do?
    – How would you feel about working further away in a few years when your kids are older, so your family can continue living in the area but your job is elsewhere?
    – Can your job be done from home? Are there other jobs in your organization that could be done from home? Are there other pensionable jobs that you can be trained to do that would let you work from home?

  11. Submerged Tenths*

    I have a similar situation. I am nearing retirement age in a niche role at a failing business. If someone would hire me at my age to do what I do (and I love what I do, when there’s work!) at my age, I would probably have to move. Not likely. So I have decided to focus on what I like about the job — flexibility, great co-workers, adequate pay, health insurance — and choose to ignore the crazy dysfunction that is poor management coupled with shrinking demand for our product.

    Much dissatisfaction is in our own heads, and we can change that.

    1. TardyTardis*

      Ah, I was there a few years ago myself. Large employer, small town, unable to move–this sounds so familiar. Hope you’re able to run it out before they go crashy-crashy.

  12. KellyAF*

    A mental re-framing tactic I’ve liked when I was in situations that felt crappy was to remind myself that I had a choice, and this crappy choice was the one I made, because it was the best of all the crappy choices. It seems counter-intuitive, but I think feeling stuck and helpless made me feel a lot worse than I needed to. If you stay, it may help to remind yourself that you don’t HAVE to stay — you could absolutely leave and take another job. You are staying because you have decided that the benefits outweigh the costs, and that calculation can change at any time. You are not stuck, you are not helpless, you do have a choice.

    Good luck!

    1. OP*

      This is helpful as right now I feel stuck/trapped. Reframing it so that I am telling myself I am choosing to stay because of the pay, benefit, and flexibility is helpful.

      1. Camellia*

        This. My husband worked an hour away from where we lived and our daughter was in school, so for sixteen years I gritted my teeth and chanted ‘six minutes from home, six minutes from home, six minutes from home’ when necessary at my crappy job that was only, you guessed it, six minutes from where we lived. Afterwards I went on to something much better!

      2. KellyAF*

        I used it in particular when I was living with my parents after college. It seems silly, but whenever I felt trapped or helpless, I reminded myself that I actually could leave — I could live in my car, I could couch-surf, I could move into a dangerous neighborhood, whatever. I wasn’t really stuck, I was choosing the difficulties of living with my parents because the cost-benefit ratio was better than those other options.

      3. Silver Radicand*

        Yeah, honestly, just examining the other options (even if only in your head) and actually choosing to stay helped me a lot when my job was feeling frustrating or stressful or confining.

      4. TardyTardis*

        Although if there are lots of firings and reorganizations, you could get caught in them too. It couldn’t hurt to look.

  13. Chaordic One*

    While not challenging or professionally fulfilling, it sounds as if the workload is manageable (not much, if any, overtime). The OP doesn’t mention serious conflicts with coworkers. Considering the great pay, vacation and benefits, and the retirement plan, if it were me I think I’d be happy to stay put in the position.

  14. Smarty Boots*

    OP: Consult with your benefits person. You may be able to leave the state job right now without being retired, go work somewhere else, then work for the state again. Or you could work for a different office/employer within the state system. For instance, working for the state university for 10 years, work for the state department of natural resources for 7 years, work in the private sector 5 years, work for the state department of insurance for X years. But ask your benefits office to be sure — every state is different, and the rules may be different depending on when you first became a state employee, what kind of pension plan you have (if it IS a pension plan vs. a retirement account), and so on.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      My last boss did that first thing. He worked his way up through a bunch of State agencies, did something like 9 years in private consulting, and then went back to the State to finish out his tenure. He still got the lifetime pension and healthcare but didn’t spend all 30 years in the State.

    2. Brett*

      > You may be able to leave the state job right now without being retired, go work somewhere else, then work for the state again.

      You do have to be really careful with this.
      My last employer had a pension, and I left thinking I could return again in 7 or less years if I decided I wanted to go back and get my benefits.
      While I was gone, they retroactively closed the pension plan. There is no going back now because I was not employed on the effective date they closed it.

  15. Well Paid and Frustrated*

    Hi OP, are you me? Because I swear I nearly wrote an almost-identical letter to Alison about two hours ago. I get great pay and benefits, but my co-workers are just awful people to try and work with. So far I’ve been waiting it out but keeping my eyes peeled, but it can really be draining. We don’t have the massive instability that your workplace seems to have, just a lot of internal turf battles between departments that makes collaboration (one of my key jobs as somebody in a leadership role) incredibly painful. No solutions, just wanted to let you know you’re not alone in your dilemma! Good luck!

      1. nonymous*

        Also, I find having a very fixed schedule helps a lot. I take all my breaks and mentally plan for something fun/meaningful to do during them. This might be a tasty lunch and some time with a good book, or progress on a side project I’m involved in, or get an exercise session in (admittedly much easier when working from home). When I used to work in a busier job, breaks were definitely for resting, but in a slower-paced role it may be that the break can be used to burn off excess energy. The goal for me is to be able to get through the next 2 hrs on autopilot while meeting work expectations.

        I will say that I took my first full two week vacation recently and it was really life-changing in terms of perspective shift. I wish I did it earlier. Something clicked and now I’m able to frame the political posturing as just part of a process to work through.

  16. Anon Working Mom*

    It’s one thing if you’re unfulfilled/bored at work and weighing the pros & cons of moving on. But it sounds more like you’re miserable and trying to do what’s best for the family over your own needs. As a working mom, I totally understand where you’re coming from. On paper, it seems you’re doing the right thing, but why does it make you feel so bad? Keep in mind, that a happy parent is good for the whole family, and an unhappy parent can trickle down in ways you might not realize. It’s so easy to take the stress of the day out on people you love without realizing it’s happening. Retiring at 55 sounds awesome, but at what cost? Stress and misery can also take a toll on personal health.

    Striking a work/life balance with young kids is so hard. But please be kind to yourself and believe that you deserve to be happy in your work. You do commit 40+ hours a week for your job – that’s a lot of time. Whatever you spend your time doing, you deserve to be happy doing it.

    1. Genny*

      This is kind of where I fall. The benefits sound great, but the cost sounds really steep. This LW sounds like she’s at the end of her rope and doesn’t have another 13 years of this job left in her. It’s unfortunately really easy to take the nasty side effects of burn out on yourself and your family, and that’s not a healthy or sustainable dynamic.

    2. TardyTardis*

      Retiring at 55, unless it includes health insurance, is not as helpful as it sounds. Paying for insurance on the market means you will pay higher and higher rates as years go by before turning 65, and if a certain lawsuit pass, might be impossible to get if you have a pre-existing condition. (this is in the US).

  17. CatCat*

    “(b) being happy with pay/benefits that are decent but just not as unusually stellar as you have now.”

    This seems like a great option to me and a good way to frame going forward if you decide this just isn’t going to continue to work for you because you’re so unhappy. There’s a lot going on here, but some is just crunching the numbers. Like with retirement, are you vested in the state retirement system? Can you still pull retirement from the system at 55 (just with 17 years of service credit rather than 30)? What does it look like to do that, and then try to fill the gap (through your own investment and savings) between what you would have gotten at 30 years of service credit vs 17? If you were *happy* at your job, would you be willing to work past 55 (and would this improve the multiplier on your pension payout)?

  18. MK*

    I don’t think tolerating this for 13 more years is either realistic or worth it. If you decide to stay at your job, you will need a major attitude adjustment, so that you can view it as just a way to get money, and possibly other work (paid or not) to get the validation that you should be getting from your job.

    On piece of advice if you do decide to leave: don’t take a vague “money isn’t everything” approach, take a good look at your finances and make a list of the things that you will have to do without and the changes you will have to make. I have known people to leave unhappy high-paying jobs for more pleasant lower-paying ones, only to become miserable in a different way due to financially-caused problems.

    1. Bea*

      This is a great point. It does matter how much you can afford and absorb financially to change.

      I took a cut before but I crunched numbers for days to know if I could still live a life I’m happy with. Being a hermit with a partner who is similar helped a lot. But many people would be miserable cutting down on travel or dinning out frequently or season tickets to the symphony etc. It’s important to find that balance.

  19. Bea*

    My only worry is the damage inflicted on you emotionally. You say it’s hurting your self confidence. Does this drain into your family and private life?

    If you stay, the cost could be your health. And could affect your children and spouse because you’re “not you”. It’s great they get lots of time with you but are you at your best? What kind of example do you set for your kids? Do you want them to grow up to sacrifice their professional achievements and work in your conditions?

    Pull back the layers and see what sucking it up means all around.

    I’ve seen people hate their jobs for 30 years and they are not fun to be around. Even though they have money and time off, forty hours of sucking it up is enough to crush you long term. Some can detach but others who are naturally emotional can’t do so without shutting off essential parts that also make you a strong affectionate parent or partner.

  20. Not All*

    This is SO HARD. I’m in a similar situation (minus the kids but plus some other personal life stuff that make flexibility very valuable). The other aspect that I’m grappling with is that my experience doing really complex, challenging work is aging. I have less responsibility, specialized duty, and challenge in this position than I had in my first job out of college which means that, no matter how hard I spin it, all my experience that potential employers care about is getting further back. If I don’t leave soon I won’t be able to.

    My other terror is that my work ethic is going to vanish…I’ve already lost a lot of my good work habits because it simply isn’t necessary here. (Seriously, they could have a part time college kid doing this job…it’s mind-numbing for someone who was a high performer with decades of experience. Talk about bait & switch on what the the job was described as!)

    My compromise with myself has been to look for other jobs but be really, really picky. We’ll see if I regret that a couple years from now!

    1. OP*

      Your situation sounds just like mine. The longer I stay in this job with less responsibilities the older my experience gets which is worrisome.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        *If* you choose to stay, it looks like learning new skills with the down time would be especially helpful… and maybe see if you can liaison with other depts on projects that touch on your department? That’s a good way to network and see different tasks / roles / skills, to check out things you might want to do.

  21. Oh So Very Anon*

    As someone who is kissing close to retirement, I can tell you that there are many stages in one’s life, and it’s OK to make decisions that reflect that. There is no shame in staying in a sucky job because it works well for your family right now. There is also no shame in moving on, if the awfulness in the job outweighs other considerations. Take a look at your ENTIRE life, decide priorities based on what’s current at the moment (knowing priorities change), and you’ll find your path much clearer.

    Staying doesn’t mean staying forever, and leaving doesn’t necessarily mean choosing something worse than what you have. Job hunting doesn’t mean you’re committed to changing jobs. Take a look at what’s out there, so that you have more info in making your decision. If the right thing comes along, you will know, and you will know what to do. If it doesn’t… well, the search will keep you entertained while waiting for work to do.

    Oh, and I also agree with those who recommended that you find fulfilling activities to do outside of work.

    Good luck, OP.

  22. Quiltrrrr*

    This is actually a decision I had to make…I had a job with good pay, great vacation/sick policy, and I was absolutely miserable because I was extremely under-utilized and depressed. I had nothing to do at work, and it grated on me for *3* years to have a manager who wouldn’t listen to me, even though I have considerable experience, education (more than that manager), and certifications (which he didn’t have).

    I made that move, and although I don’t like the lower pay (I took a 10% pay cut), longer commute, much less sick time, etc., and it DOES affect me to know that I had to do that, my sanity is so much better, and I feel like my career is back on track to an extent. I do miss those ‘non-work’ parts of my old job, but I guess it was worth it to respect myself.

    However, there are plenty of days I think I did make a mistake, but that’s when I look back at the past. I do try to not do that too much. I’m early to mid 40’s, and I have a long time to go before I get to think about retirement.

  23. Bunny Girl*

    I’ve always thought of your life in three parts – your professional life, your personal life, and your social life. It would be great if you could have all three, but if two are great you can normally overlook the third one being not-so-great. Last year I lived someplace where I love my job – so my professional life was great. But I didn’t really have a lot of friends, and I struggled to make any, plus my boyfriend lived really far away – so my social life wasn’t great. I also didn’t really like where I lived; it was expensive, my neighbors were from hell, and I felt stressed out because it was so overcrowded – so my personal life wasn’t my favorite either.

    I moved a year ago. And I like where I live, it’s affordable, and I’m able to go back to school – so personal life is spiffy. I’m close to both my boyfriend, and my good friends of over 10 years – so my social life is lovely. Do I absolutely adore my job? No I don’t – so my professional life isn’t fantastic. BUT I am a lot happier because two of my three “life sections” are going great. My job pays me well and has good benefits, and allows me to be able to focus on school when I’m not at work, so it’s funding the other two parts of my life.

    So if you are loving your life outside of work and can focus on the end goal, I’d see if re-framing your mindset helps. Good luck to you either way!

  24. Nelly*

    OP, you sound a lot like me when I worked for a toxic department in a large school district office. I ended up going back to school at 40 to pursue a career that I’m passionate about and offers many more diverse opportunities. Before making that decision, I saw a therapist who introduced me to the idea of job crafting,
    It’s pretty much using your mindset and creativity to make the best of a lame job situation.

  25. blink14*

    13 years is a really, really long time when you are unhappy. If you were 3-5 years out from retirement, I’d say maybe stick with it, but in your case I would at least look around and see what else is out there. If there is nothing comparable, try to re-frame your job as a place you go to earn money, and work in some great vacations or hobbies outside of work to maximize your time off. It’s entirely possible things could change for the better.

    There is definitely something to be said for a great work/life balance with good benefits, if you can stick it out. The time with your kids may be more plentiful now than when you hit 55 and retire. At the very least, your kids would be in high school at that point, and then off to college, and you may not see them as much as you think you would if you retire. If you’re thinking more about having the freedom to travel and do things like that when you retire, try to do some of them now.

    And, hopefully it doesn’t happen, but if you or someone in your family has a major medical event or illness, you may not have the carefree retirement life so many people picture. Take the time now in the coming years to check some things off your wish list things to do and see.

  26. Gloucesterina*

    A thought that might be way off-base but I’ll throw it out there:

    I don’t know how old your kids are but I remember my mom sharing with me (I was perhaps around 13 years of age) about how she was approaching the decision about whether to take a new job or keep her current one. She talked about creating a lists of pros and cons, and then what it was like doing the new job, and, then, in the end, why she ultimately decided to leave the new job and return to her old one. I’m hazy on the details but it was the first time that she had talked to me about work-related decisions. Mind you, my mom did not have a four-year college degree and these were all relatively low-paying positions she was deciding among, but I still value that insight she gave me into her decision-making process, and what it means to be suited as a person to one type of work and not to another.

    Even if your kids are not old enough for you to share this process with them so they can learn from it (or if there are too many emotions involved, or they might feel guilty about you keeping a job you’re not thriving in for their sake), I wonder if there are other younger-but-not-too-young folks in your life who might benefit from hearing you think through these things a bit.

  27. OP*

    Something else I worry about that I didn’t put in my letter is that someday my employer will realize I don’t have enough work and will eliminate my position. I constantly ask for more work and volunteer for things to show I want to be doing more. The only positive is when there is work for me they are very large projects with very tight timeframes and there is no one else around who has the time or know how to do the work. But I do live in fear of losing my job and if I left I am not sure they would replace my position.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      This is a real and valid concern. I have something like it, and I think it should be a factor in your decision. The way I approached mine was to look at any trends I could find – what is my industry doing, what is my company doing inside that industry (tech manufacturing). I can see my industry is going overseas and my company is divesting inside the industry, so I am talking to my network about the timeframe for my next position – when not if.

      I would *love* to be able to retire with a pension in 13 years (at 60ish), so I’m a little biased towards ‘stay.’ But if you stay, focus on becoming ready to leave – look for some skills / certification that you can use in your existing job or one that’s of interest to you. Putting those skills to use in the job = line in your resume’.

      Good luck!

    2. J.B.*

      To a point that is a legitimate concern, but some people are paid “to know things rather than to do things”. What I would ask is – how old are your kids? What do you do with your flexibility?

      I spent several years sticking it out in a less than ideal job with good pay and flexibility. My mantra was to do a good job for me and to try to rise above the dysfunction. I was so oddly specialized that getting out meant going back to school. Now that my kids are old enough to be relatively independent (and not doing travel soccer or any of that cr@p) I am able to devote the time to school.

    3. Someone Else*

      I have had this fear also and something that helps me a bit was this:
      A good portion of the time, I wanted out. I wanted to leave and do something else. (For me it was bad enough I was considering leaving without anything lined up, which may not apply to you)

      If they got rid of me, it would make the decision for me. No more waffling about staying for the good aspects and suffering through the bad. No more worrying about what if the something new is somehow worse and I’d regret it. It’d be done, and that’s OK because them eliminating the position yields an outcome part of me wanted anyway: to not do that job anymore. And if they were to eliminate it, there’d be severance. So I tried to use that to not fear losing the job because it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

      1. Slartibartfast*

        Yup. Sometimes losing a job is the kick in the pants to do what you want but don’t quite have the courage to jump on your own.

    4. M. Albertine*

      Yup, you were me a couple years ago. My position was cut to 75% time because I had frankly worked myself out of a job (a lot of process improvement in the first five years, then it was maintenance and some contracting out). They gave me 6 months warning, and I think I spent a year waiting for openings and applying for transfers to try and keep my benefits. I finally opened up my search outside the organization, and was able to find a job with the same salary and a significant reduction in benefits, but way more flexibility than I ever hoped possible (unlimited time off) and a huge step forward in career growth potential. My position was significantly restructured down after I left.

      It was a tough decision because I am the sole breadwinner of the family, but I didn’t have to compromise on what was really important to me (spending time with my family), and we’re just tightening our belts until I can reap the salary and growth potential.

    5. Anon for this*

      I wouldn’t underestimate this portion of the calculation. Also, the “constant scandals in the news and reorganizations.” Will your company even be around (as you know it) in 13 years? Plus, unfair though it may be, the closer you get to retirement age, the harder it can be to find a new position.

  28. Magda*

    One thing I would be worried about (as others have said) is that with at least 13 years more to go until your possible retirement, there’s a lot that can happen in that time! It seems like you are stagnating in terms of skills and professional development right now. 13 years is a long time to just coast along. It would be different if it were 3 years instead of 13. At the very least, I’d start looking around and thinking about it.

    1. OP*

      Very good points. I do feel very stagnet currently. I am in a field that is rapidly changing but my employer is slow to change or innovate.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        As others have mentioned, go ahead and develop your skills. Don’t wait for your employer to catch up! If your employer provides or reimburses training, do that. If not, use your flex time to do it on your own – maybe look for inexpensive options like workshops or community college courses. If there are certificates available in the skills, get them.

  29. Aphrodite*

    My job, administrative assistant, in higher education, was similar. I was under-utilized, demeaned, harassed and more by two managers and their boss, the dean, now VP. I was sick. I thought about looking elsewhere but like you the pay is okay, the benefits are outstanding, the time off (vacation, sick time and holidays) is almost unheard of anywhere else, and it is a union-protected job with state retirement and a public employees retirement system.

    In the end, I decided to stick it out. But I also changed my attitude, and decided that I would handle the bad parts of the job because I wanted what it offered. I decided not to hate the supervisors though I truly dislike them, and I stepped even further up to do my job even better. It was frustrating but once I had decided what was most important to me I was able to do that. And actually it ended up being far better than I had ever thought. I got transferred to a new supervisor with the changes going on, and he turned out to the most spectacular boss I have ever had. The job actually is fun now. He calls us the dream team. But even if that hadn’t happened I would not have left. I deliberately and with a lot of thought made my choice. Nothing is ever 100 percent perfect, and if I ever need a reminder the Universe is right there with it as I see other people at other jobs out in the world and am instantly reminded of the tremendous gift I have.

    You may choose to stay or go elsewhere but I really suggest you make a conscious, deliberate, thoughtful choice. Whatever that choice, it will feel right because you made it and are determined to enjoy it for the reasons you chose it.

    1. Ender*

      True. With additional retirement savings you could retire younger and still have your full pension, then you would be able to work at a different job as a hobby. It’s a choice a lot of people would make.

  30. jm*

    I went from a super interesting but fairly low-paying and demanding position in my degree field to a position in a public school district that is not in my degree field. The benefits are great, I have tons of time off with my kids, and the money is good considering what I do. I’m underutilized and often have lots of extra time on my hands, because this job is basically like being an old hound sitting on a porch — you just sit around and wait for something to bark at or chase. I’ve gotten good at filling up my “porch time” with reading blogs, balancing my checkbook, handling personal business, researching vacations/book recommendations/recipes/home decor, listening to podcasts, etc. I have 3 years until I’m fully vested in the retirement system, and I may look elsewhere after that. However, the benefits of this job, coupled with the generous amount of time off, and the demanding nature of my personal life (two kids, one with special needs, husband and I are renovating the house we live in), makes me think twice about job searching. It’s nice to know that things can be crazy in my personal life, but work will be easy. Boring, but easy.

  31. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP — You describe your organization as a chaotic mess. Are you really sure you will have the dubious luxury of grinding out another 13 years there? If your job is suddenly reorganized out of existence, you’ll wish you’d started looking sooner. (I speak from many year’s experience in higher education, where “financial exigency” was just a phrase — until it wasn’t.)

    Have you and your partner discussed this? You need some feedback as to whether your unhappiness is leaking over into your home life. Many people think they can just suck it up and not have it effect their family, but that kind of compartmentalization is rarely as tight as you imagine it is. If you’re so miserable that your partner is prepared to live on ramen noodles to get you out of there, it will affect the character of the discussion.

    So my advice would be to have a frank talk with your partner and then start lining up some alternatives. Some job research, yes. But are there ways you can pick up some additional skills, preferably on your employer’s dime? Check into what kinds of professional development they have available, then work that for all it’s worth.

    You and your partner might also want to take a hard look at your financial situation. Can you pay down any debt you may have and build up a cash reserve? Working for a bad employer is much more tolerable when you have a secure “go to hell” fund.

    1. Fluff*

      This 10000x

      I’ve been in situations / employment / heck residency! where I was ready to pop open a beer, drop an F-bomb and slide outta there via the emergency exit slide. The only reason I did not was because I knew I COULD. I had saved up the “OS Account” so that I could have the dramatic exit. Once I had that $, I could handle hard stuff more because it was a choice – and I was much less likely to slide out of there like a drama llama.

  32. Nita*

    This question hits really close to home. My husband is facing this dilemma right now, so we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. The big question is, what are the chances of finding a job that you do find fulfilling, with your qualifications? Do you need to take any steps to get there, such as getting a certification, going back to school part-time, etc.?

    If your experience is likely to just land you another similar job, but with worse benefits, I’d say it’s better to stay and try to develop good coping strategies. Like having a part-time second job or volunteer thing that you do love, and having someone in your life that you can vent to, and keeping it in mind that you did not create the mess at work and it does not define who you are.

    If you do have a good chance of getting out and doing something better, it’s worthwhile to make a plan to do that. Maybe you won’t want to put that plan into action until your kids are older. Maybe you want to start searching slowly – it could take a while!

    1. Michaela Westen*

      “someone you can vent to” – Venting is good, but it can spiral to negativity and resentment. If it’s getting out of control, find other ways to blow off steam.
      When I was working for the most horrible person I ever met and was pretty sure my friends didn’t want to hear about her anymore, I vented into my computer. Every Friday night I typed into a Word document all the horrible things she did and the way I felt about them.
      This really helped! I didn’t need to talk about her as much and when I did, it was to discuss coping strategies with my colleagues. It helped me move forward – I decided to work on my skills and professionalism in the hope of getting a better job. Working on my professionalism changed my focus and made the situation more bearable. I did eventually get a better job. :)

  33. MissDisplaced*

    I normally err on the side of bouncing when you’re so unhappy at a job. However, in this case I would say stick it out until you can take the 55 retirement (or until a layoff if they’re as bad as you say). If early retirement at 55 truly is the case, it’s fantastic and you could technically have a whole other career or business that begins at 55, one that you’ve plotted and planned and nurtured for 13 years.
    If you elect to stay at company this way, find these useful outlets for your career energy, whatever that means to you (consulting, speaking engagements, investing, teaching, writing, you name it!). You can begin building a side hustle or consulting business in the next few years with little financial risk. That’s a luxury few have.

  34. ShwaMan*

    It’s tough to give advice on this one, because it cuts so close to the core of what your personal values are.
    I do agree with Allison and others – knowledge is power, and in knowing stuff, you may feel better in whatever your decision is. Are you *sure* you couldn’t get a more rewarding job elsewhere with comparable perks? Have you spent enough time on it that this question is truly settled in your mind? Are you *sure* there are no internal moves available that might be a bit more rewarding day to day while keeping the benefits? And are you *sure* with a well prepared proposal and sufficient assertiveness that you couldn’t negotiate a positive change in your current job’s accountabilities?
    And, there’s always simply looking on the bright side of things. There are toxic organizations out there that don’t offer good pay & benefits either – maybe in the grand scheme of things yours isn’t so bad! Lastly, I would also say that for me at least, working in a perfectly operating environment can be boring! Focus on the things you have the power to make a positive change on (even if it’s marginal), and helping to lead that change can be very rewarding. And if you’re not sure you want to work there forever, you might be more comfortable taking some risks in pushing your weight around.

  35. AC*

    I totally understand your predicament. I am also a state employee. I have been having a difficult time at work recently due to my boss, quite frankly, being a complete and total idiot in the media. I get quite a bit of flack from it as well. I have been wanting to start looking for a new job, but I have only been in this position for over a year. We don’t get vested until year 5. It is easily the best state retirement system in the country so I don’t want to lose that opportunity, in addition to the good health insurance and generous time off.

    1. voice of experience*

      AC, I want to repeat the same thing I told the OP: Don’t count on that retirement benefit. Do some research and ask yourself if all the defined-benefit plans actually paid out what they are promising, would the USA still be solvent? Then Google all of the sure-thing, union-protected, state-constitution-mandated defined benefit plans that are being stripped down. The key in your case, and in the OP’s, is that you’re only just starting. So many of us have decades paid into these systems and really don’t have options. But you are only one year in; get out while you still can!

  36. Leslie*

    OP, I make the same calculation on a weekly basis. Old job was much less pay, much more responsibility, lots of hours a week, and burnout. New job is significantly more pay, much less responsibility, 40 hours a week, and deep lethargy. Coworkers are a mixed bag, some great, some really nasty. Old job had some real winners (snark). I have more PTO at new job and greater schedule flexibility. I have skills and take on work no one else does – or can do successfully. So when I move the ball forward, it isn’t just a couple of inches, it’s halfway down the field. Those types of projects come up a couple of times a year. Other than that, I have to find things to do. In general, I feel guilty and have trouble getting up and ready for work in the mornings. But! I put some very interesting accomplishments on my resume. In some ways, this job is helping me calibrate work expectations. It’s also helping me get experience (whatever that word means) in a more mainstream business line where my work before coming here was somewhat niche. I don’t know how long I’ll stay here, maybe another 6 months to a year. 13 years? Not a chance.

  37. CM*

    If I read this letter correctly, the job has been like this the entire time (4 years) that OP has been there. So this isn’t a temporary situation and it seems unlikely that things will improve. Based on that, I would get out of this situation. OP, if I were you, I would start a job search but be picky — only apply to jobs that seem like they will work well with your family situation. Meanwhile, during your downtime at work, you can try to do things that will make you more competitive, like taking training classes or writing articles or whatever makes sense in your field.

    I did something similar — had a government job and when the administration and leadership changed in ways I was really unhappy with, I started a very selective (and slow) job search. It made my job a lot more tolerable to know that I was actively considering all my other options.

    1. Higher ed*

      Really well said. And if you’re a person who thrives on making difference (or at least feeling like your job makes an impact), that is going to take a huge toll on your mental well-being. It sounds like it is already.

  38. Butter Makes Things Better*

    Fwiw, my brother was in a very similar golden handcuffs situation to OP minus the scandals. Ridiculously high pay, amazing benefits, possibility of early retirement, lots of flextime to attend school events, work he could do in his sleep, etc. But working for his abusive, unsupportive boss going on 20 years had taken a mental health toll he knew he was explaining way.

    He decided to start testing the waters a couple years ago. Opportunities presented themselves, but nothing could quite tip the scales because of the high $/benefits bar. But this June, he landed a job at his old boss’s level at a new company where he could build his department from the ground up. The benefits aren’t quite as good, but the pay is comparable.

    Two days into his new job, he wrote me to say that no matter the challenges in his new position, he felt liberated. “I’m myself for the first time in decades. I can be me here in a way that I couldn’t there. I don’t feel like I’m putting on some kind of façade.” And his energy level and mood lifted considerably once he didn’t have to cater to a narcissist’s mercurial whims anymore.

    The suggestions on reframing OP’s current job are great, and that could end up being the best path for OP. OP could also find something a notch down benefits-wise that will buoy OP instead of draining them. Good luck, OP, whether you stay and detach, or look for saner pastures!

  39. Slartibartfast*

    The constant reorgs and leadership changes + not a lot to do makes me worry about stability too. SO is in a similar situation, but far closer to retirement and protected by a union, no chance of a layoff. He’s committed to doing his job well but is mentally detached from the organization. Still it’s a struggle some days. If it weren’t for the guaranteed stability and set retirement date, I don’t think he’d stay. If there’s a chance you could be laid off, that’s one more check on the list toward leaving. The other big factor (possibly biggest) is, are you able to enjoy your time at home or are you snappish and surly? If it’s affecting your mental health to the point it’s damaging your family relationships, there’s no amount of money worth that.

    1. emmelemm*

      That’s a good point. A lot of people are saying, “Well, the mediocre job lets you have lots and lots of family time!”, but if it is indeed making you so grumpy and/or disconsolate that you’re not fully enjoying family time, then it’s not really worth it after all.

  40. Platypus-in-Boots*

    Also consider a short term exit plan that allows you time to hard core set yourselves up monetarily, or educationally, that you can take the pay cut/career change necessary when you do leave. Set it up and put a copy of it somewhere (in your purse, on your phone). Some place that when the shit gets you down, you can look at it and remind yourself what the end goal is.

  41. iglwif*

    Almost 2 years ago I left a job with a NFP company where I’d been for over 20 years (in a succession of jobs from entry-level up to exec committee). The pay sucked but the benefits were amazing, and I worked with some amazing people (mostly) doing work I (mostly) found fulfilling.

    Except over the last 3-4 years I was there, I became more and more unhappy with my workload, the way my team and our budget were being handled, and finally, when my A+ former boss retired, my ex-grandboss-now-direct-boss, who … well, let’s just say we did not have compatible communication, management, or anything-else styles. My anxiety ratcheted up higher than ever before, and I got depressed, and it ended up being really bad. And yet, I had tons of vacation time and great flexibility and really good supplemental health care and a defined-benefit pension plan, and it was reaaalllly hard to imagine walking away from that. (Plus, although my salary sucked for the work I was doing, it was still way more than I’d ever made in my life before and almost 1.5x what my partner was making.)

    I did end up leaving, because in the end, the suck outweighed the benefits. I think of this as the crap-to-money ratio: how much crap you’re willing to put up with for the amount of money (and benefits) you get. The crap-to-money ratio is different for every person, and it’s not about the objective amount of money or the objective amount of crap so much as the relationship between them and how each factor is affecting your life. Like, do the health benefits allow you to not stress about possible health crises? Do you have tons of vacation time but your workload is ridiculous so you can’t take it? Do you have lots of sick time but get shamed for using it? Do you make tons of money but have to work such long hours you never see your family? Do you have to deal with a ton of crap at work but you can shut it off when you go home and enjoy the results of your nice salary? Everybody’s got their own calculation to make.

    tl;dr only you can make this decision, but in some ways I have been where you are and I really sympathize!

  42. Same boat, still rowing*

    OP, before you decide to leave, try to use your down time to take classes or training; keeping busy may take a lot of your dissatisfaction away. If possible, get involved with other departments, by joining committees, for example (even if it’s for a social or volunteer event). You’ll meet new people, and possibly open yourself up to a transfer, if one becomes available. As bleak as it may look, it’s also possible that things can change. You said there’s a lot of scandal; that can only go on so long. I was 20 years into a very similar situation to yours, when some ineffective managers “retired” somewhat reluctantly (if you know what I mean). Our new management is great, and has brought a new energy to things. If you do end up leaving, most likely, you can take the cash out of your pension and roll it into another retirement account.

  43. stitchinthyme*

    Oh wow, in so many ways I could have written this — my job also has great pay, decent benefits, my own office, free snacks and drinks, a catered meal once a week…but I feel invisible and undervalued and unappreciated, I’m usually the last one they think of when there’s a new project to work on, my boss is a great tech manager but a horrible people manager (he actually commented on my first performance review that I came to him too much to ask for things to do), and my coworkers are mostly a bunch of man-children. Truth be told, I’ve mostly stayed as long as I have because I love having my own office, but I’m finally starting to get to the point where I’m not sure that’s enough to outweigh the crappy parts. So I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I need to start looking, though I think I will wait until I come back from an upcoming trip, just so I’m not juggling interviews or trying to deal with taking a vacation right after I start a new job. (Yes, I know it can take a long time to find a job, but my area basically has 0% unemployment in the tech sector, and I found my last couple of jobs here without even really trying. That could have been sheer luck, but just in case, I’ll wait until the trip is over.)

    1. OP*

      I have never thought about it before but I also feel invisible. With all of the changes in leadership many folks don’t know my skills or what l am capable of or what my role is. So I need to be better at advocating for myself and selling my self. Of course being invisible and under the radar is a good thing in our current climate of scandals, retaliations, and blaming.

      1. stitchinthyme*

        I’ve been trying to raise my own profile as well; for example, I hate meetings, but I’ve started attending the weekly one my group has, although I don’t have to (I’m not a project leader, and they’re the only ones who are required to go). It hasn’t helped much so far, though.

        If you do decide to start looking, remember you can afford to be picky. You’re currently employed, no matter how much you hate the place, so take your time, do as much research as you can into the companies you interview with, and find the right place.

  44. Consultant Liz*

    One – this seems like the ideal situation for informal informational interviews. Every time I feel this way about my job and realize how much worse it could be and the trade-offs are worth it.

    Two – this is not a sentence for 13 years. Things change. Especially if your kids are young you may appreciate the flexibility more now but feel differently in the future. Or your spouse’s situation could change and allow more income flexibility. Just give yourself permission to look around ad reevaluate periodically so you don’t feel trapped.

  45. nnn*

    Another thought: Does your employer have provisions for long-term leave without pay? (Some government jobs with which I’m familiar do – for example, you can take leave without pay of up to one year once in your career.)

    If your job does have leave without pay provisions that allow you to take on outside employment, you might be able to use it as a trial period to try out another job, while retaining the option of going back to the security of your current job.

  46. gsa*

    Many moons ago, probably 360, I read an article about a study focusing on job satisfaction.

    I am paraphrasing, top three were: Environment, probably translate to culture today; Interesting/challenging work, and public recognition. Pay was a distance fourth.

    Times have not changed much!

  47. voice of experience*

    Save as much money as possible; look for your next job carefully and deliberately; plan on being in your next gig in two years.

    I have read your question a few times and all of the collapsed replies (not the replies to the replies). I’m particularly interested because the retirement benefit you describe is similar to the one I am promised, so I’ve done some research on this. The annuity you think is locked in when you retire at fifty-five IS NOT CERTAIN. I’m using the caps lock because my research suggests that too many people haven’t really checked on how likely it is that the retirement benefit cannot be reduced, even a decade after you retire. It has happened and the trend indicates that more and more systems will be found unsustainable and the monthly annuity you are counting on will not be there.

    So, I suggest you save as much as you possibly can, even if it means you must forego some vacations and restaurant meals. Take advantage of the slack you have now to get aggressive about your job search, as if you’d already been RIFed. On your 2018-2020 calendar, set specific goals for credentials earned, savings goals met, networking contacts cultivated etc.

    You’re only four years in; you have time to correct your course. That pension benefit is not real. Don’t let it trick you.

  48. LiptonTea4Me*

    Some people can stick with the job just for the benefits alone and are perfectly happy to only do what is put in front of them. Unfortunately, I am not one of them as I suspect you are not. There are all these wonderful things about the job except that it no longer engages you or allows for growth or a sense of satisfaction…all things that I need in a job.

    1. LiptonTea4Me*

      I have a life long hobby that I do in my down time, but I find that I resent having to go to my soul sucking job still. Staying in the job and doing something on the side feels more like I am delaying the inevitable.

  49. chickaletta*

    I’d keep the job and invest in hobbies and volunteer activities that are fulfilling. You know how many people are underutilized and bored at work with *low* pay and little time off? (raises hand). Hey, at least you got one thing. To have both is like winning the lottery- it might seem like it’s not if you happen to be surrounded with high achieving friends and family, but trust me, to have both is a rare occurrence among the general population.

    With the time off and flexibility your jobs provides, you’re in a unique position to be really active outside of work at the height of your working years. I’d take advantage of that.

  50. LGC*

    I’d say look, BUT…maybe I’m reading too far into this, but it seems like you hate your job, which bled over into hating your company. What really jumped out at me was this:

    For reference, I was in my previous position for 10 years and supervised 22 individuals and oversaw numerous multi-million dollar projects at a time. Now I don’t supervise anyone and my projects are much smaller.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you were in a management-type position, and then moved out of that. Was there a reason for it? Would you be able to take another management-type position within your company? Because I think that might be the best solution, if that’s possible. Maybe (emphasis on maybe) even if it’s a small step down.

    (It’s also possible – but I’m REALLY grasping for straws here – that you were involuntarily transitioned out of a management-track position. In that case, the decision is much tougher – I think you’d be happier with managing people, but your chances with that company are much lower.)

    1. OP*

      I was previously in a management position and was hired in my current job as an administrator. My job title is a high level administrator position (thus the good pay). I am just not being utilized as one. When I took the position I thought there was a lot more to the job. I have tried to initiate new things but have not had good support due to our numerous leadership changes and the fact that folks are busy just running from one fire to another.

  51. Cautionary tale*

    Personally, I’d leave, but that’s neither here not there.

    My takeaway is this: OP’s letter is a textbook case of why “moving to small town to be closer to family” is almost always a bad idea. Anyone contemplating doing this should read this letter.

    1. OP*

      Moving to a smaller city may not be as great on the career front but we are so much happier in our personal lives. Our kids have very close relationships with all of their grandparents; the grandparents can easily attend school and sporting events; and the grandparents provide all of our childcare. Also as they age it will be easier to help them stay in their homes longer as we will be close by to assist them.

  52. boop the first*

    Difficult decision! I typically have low-wage, “uneducated” type of jobs, so I’ve never had one that I didn’t feel horrible about in some way. I genuinely believe that I just hate the concept of selling my time away, yet having to be aware of what I’m doing during that time, to boot. Like on Office Space, can’t I just come home and think I’ve been fishing all day? Science, get on this!

    Anyway, I got laid off from my last retail job (store closure) and decided to try one that made use of my culinary training. It sounds great on paper: I get to make use of my college training, I get to make pretty things all day, there are no customers, it pays a little more than minimum wage… I guess that’s it. Unfortunately, I was baited into a part-time job that turned out to be full time, so now I have no time for my side business and I’m thinking of giving up on it, and I’m pretty depressed about that. It sounds like it would be impossible to book vacation time. I have a very high tolerance for jerks, but I still feel stressed and annoyed every day.

    I actually miss my last job… it paid not very much, morale was low (because of all the rumbling happening in corporate), customers are always draining, the work was unbelievably boring… like you, I was severely underutilized. But I finally had a schedule that worked for me. I got paid hardly at all because of that (obvs), but I had time to do side work that actually meant something to me.

    Sometimes things balance out. Maybe for you, it’s financial and future security. Maybe for me, it’s living NOW while I still can. I can worry about retirement, but retirement may not be a “thing” anymore by then. I might commit suicide before then. I might get cancer. I might be in an accident, or be killed on my walks to work through the dark fog. I will probably be crushed by a huge truck soon. Who knows. I already have zero memories from my adult life because I’ve spent it all miserable and working and will continue to do so. I don’t think getting old and retiring is going to be rewarding for me, and that probably impacts my decisions now. So you’d never get a straight, workable answer to this question.

  53. Amber*

    My flatmate and I have had lots of discussion about this very subject, especially with both of us being in less than ideal jobs. (He works 10-hour overnights, and I’m a grocery clerk at a pretty decent company.)

    The conclusion we came to is that our jobs aren’t the things that make us happy. Both of our jobs, while not ideal, are good jobs for us, because it lets us have money and time to do the things that DO make us happy. Then again, we aren’t interested in becoming rich or anything either, so the things that make us happy aren’t all that impressive either.

  54. GreenDoor*

    ONe of my college professors made an offhand comment once along the lines of, “Money isn’t the only thing that motivates people to work.” The comment has been so freeing. It is perfectly OK to work for something that, at the time, is more important than your pay/benefits. In your case, it sounds like the benefits, flexible time, solid pension, and early retirement matter more than a more stimulating environment. And that’s OK! If you stay, I would take AAM’s advice and reframe the situation. I had a horrible amount of downtime at my current job and used it to do online coursework towards my Master’s Degree. Can you do something positive with your downtime?

  55. Jennifer*

    I have the same issue but 25 years to go, theoretically. I honestly think I’ll get canned before then because I have enough enemies here even if I’m on the good side of management (for the moment at least). However, I can’t find any other options out there to choose to leave and I admit, a lot of me doesn’t want to give up my tons of vacation time and benefits to go back to nothing. I have been trying to look for other jobs here so I don’t lose those, but so far no luck. OP, whether or not you have the option to leave, I don’t know, but it may not be an option these days. You can look and see if you find anything out there you like better, but who knows any more.

    I do focus on my time outside of work being fun and am trying to detach as much as possible at work, stopping caring, becoming jaded, etc. It has been a lot worse here than it is so I remind myself of that (gratitude! gratitude!) . I’m trying to not bring up the whining to my therapist as much because it just goes round and round. I’m not at that point where it hurts more not to blossom than to whatever that quote is and I may never be. I got brought up to put up with everything and I do not quit because well, I don’t know how. I can endure any horrible thing forever.

    But someone told me we spend 70% of our life at work and…argh. That is a sucky thought right there.

  56. Aaron*

    I’ve just gone on reduced hours for my job. It was a great when I was younger, but no every time I ended up with a migraine at the end of the day. It just wasn’t worth it anymore. I’ll miss the money, but not having to spend my free time in a dark room with an ice pack on the back of my neck is worth it.

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