how do I keep working in a job I hate while I look for a new one?

A reader writes:

I’m in a role that is relatively new to me but I like quite a bit. However, due to a lot of factors, I am disenchanted with my employer. I am underpaid (getting my salary to the market range would be a 30-40% increase), have many internal blockers to success, and am overall just unhappy with my management and role. I am actively looking for a new position and have two promising options.

However, as we all know, hiring doesn’t happen in a day. So while I feel confident I’ll get at least one offer, I won’t count my chickens before they’re hatched. But it’s become increasingly hard to perform in my current role on a day-to-day basis. I’m burnt out for many reasons. My managers expressed concern today with several areas – some of which I could definitely work on, but I just keep screaming in my head “I DON’T CARE!”

Of course, my response to them was that I hear their concerns and I’ll work on a high-level action plan that we’ll review this week, but this is worse than running through molasses. I don’t really have a financial net to just quit, though obviously that seems to be the best answer for everyone. Do I just do the bare minimum moving forward and maybe even hope I’m let go, in case I need unemployment? Do I really have to psych myself up to perform at my normal standards while I continue to look elsewhere, in another industry? I’m actually not sure what’s best to do when I’m so unhappy but unable to just leave.

It can be really hard to stay engaged in a job that you not only dislike but have decided to leave! And the fact that your managers have already raised concerns serious enough to warrant an action plan to fix them is a sign that things might be on a worrisome path.

Most of the time when you’re unhappy in a job and actively looking to leave, it’s in your best interest to try to hold it together until you’re gone. You’d presumably like to get good references from this job at some point in the future, and even though you’re hoping to change to an entirely different field, future employers might want to talk to this one to ask about things like your work ethic and attitude… and hearing that you checked out and did just the bare minimum in your final months there is the kind of thing that can torpedo a good offer. It could also turn out that some of your current co-workers would be good connections to have in the future, like as a source of job leads or to let you tap into their networks when you want the inside scoop on a company that they have a connection to.

What’s more, you never really know where or when people will pop up again. You might leave this job thinking that you’ll never see any of your coworkers again… and then two years from now could discover one of them is your interviewer at a totally different company, or that your new boss is friendly with your manager from this job, or who knows what.

If you look at it that way, continuing to do a decent job until you can leave is actually an investment in your escape! Having a good reputation will make it easier to get your next job, as well as all the ones after that. Having a good reputation gives you options, so that when you find yourself in a job you don’t like, it’s much easier to leave for something better.

All of that means that, as tempting as getting fired might sound when you’re this unhappy, you should try to avoid it if you can. Being fired isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it won’t be great for your reputation with anyone connected with this job—because of both the firing itself and whatever you have to do to get yourself fired. And unemployment benefits, while helpful, will usually be only a fraction of the salary you’re getting now.

There are a few exceptions to this. If you’ve only been at your company a very short time, like a few months or less, it can be easier to pull off leaving the job off your resume and erasing it from your work history (and your mind!). There’s still a possibility that you could run into someone from this job again and you’d forgo the potentially useful connections, but you might conclude that trade-off is worth it. Or, if you’re so unhappy that it’s affecting your physical or mental health, that changes the calculation as well.

Assuming that’s not the case, though, hold on to this: You’re actively working on getting out! You will be gone at some point, and doing a decent job until then will make your life easier, possibly for a long time to come.

Some practical tips to keep up appearances until then: Make sure you’re doing things to appear reasonably engaged, like participating in meetings and long-term planning (even if you know you won’t be there during the periods being discussed) and not strolling in unusually late or cutting out flagrantly early. Also, consider quietly working on documentation for the person who will replace you; organizing and documenting your work is a legitimate way to spend your time (as long as it doesn’t bump higher priorities) and it can be very satisfying to do an activity that’s directly tied to your eventual departure.

Originally published at Vice.

{ 106 comments… read them below }

  1. Grandma's Chicken Salad*

    I have a post-it on my monitor that says “YOU ARE GETTING OUT.” (I work from home.) It serves as a reminder that even though things are rough, I’m working on a plan and can tough it out.

    1. Rach*

      I love this! Maybe a quote that could be code for this that OP could safely put on their monitor would help.

      1. Lunch Ghost*

        “Better days are coming”? Or something equally generic about the future being brighter?

    2. RabidChild*

      This is terrific.

      When I was at a toxic job and ready to GTFO, I would keep myself motivated to remain professional by thinking absolutely poisonous things as I smiled pleasantly at the people that actively made my life hell.

      Them: Can I talk to you?
      Me, smiling: Sure
      Me, internally: F*** you, you absolute turd of a human
      Them: Did you get that email I sent?
      Me, smiling: I sure did. Is Friday soon enough for those edits?
      Me, internally: **describes what a turd of a human looks like in explicit detail**
      Them: Sure thing.
      Me, smiling: All righty then :)
      Me, internally: **imagines loud flushing noises**

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      That’s a great reminder! Sometimes you just need to do whatever you need to coach you through the lousy day with a lousy employer. I hope you’re in a new role soon.

      A friend of mine had a Post-It on his computer that said, ‘Just Get Through Today.’ He said taking it one day at a time was easier for him, and the sign helped him breathe a bit.

      1. Tinker*

        There’s a scene from Dragon Age: Inquisition where the protagonist finds themselves standing in a featureless snowy field, injured and clearly not equipped for extended survival in those conditions, and the currently active mission goal is described as “Find a way forward”.

        When I first encountered this scene, my reaction was “What the ENTIRE heck do you mean, find a way forward? That’s just a bunch of snow! Am I supposed to, like, go into those trees and find some sort of path?” Typically, games like this have cues that indicate that a given bit of scenery is one that the player is going to be walking on, or otherwise indicate potential paths, and I didn’t see anything like this — it was just a snowy backdrop with my character huddled in front of it shielding his face from the snow.

        Find a way forward? How? Well, the mission radar shows a point… directly ahead? I don’t see anything though… Eventually I went “heck with it, I guess I’ll push the stick forward and see what happens”. And my character, indeed, walked forward through the snow and reached the mission point, whereupon the scene faded back into a similar snowy scene and the goal again of “Find a way forward”. So I pushed the stick forward.

        Surely this guy can’t just, like, walk to where (redacted) is through knee-deep snow? “Find a way forward.” Especially considering the disaster that just happened regarding (redacted)? “Find a way forward.” Clearly the game continues from here, but this looks like an unsurvivable situation? “Find a way forward.”

        If you’re familiar with the game, you know what scene comes after that.

        Suffice it to say that I definitely gave “Find a way forward” a special place in my stash of useful mottoes.

        1. clara sparks*

          You gave me literal goosebumps just now thinking about that cutscene. The song makes me cry on every playthrough.

  2. Bibliovore*

    It might be helpful to focus hard on why you’re staying with the job in the meantime — you need that salary, or you’d just quit, and those references would be handy! — and that you’re doing what you can to make it short term. You could even write yourself a cryptic reminder note to stick on your desk to help you keep that focus. It can be easier to make it through a few more weeks with those goals firmly in mind than if focused on how very done you feel with the current job or managers.

    You could also try rewarding yourself for making it through each day with some improvements — whatever motivates you, whether that’s a treat on the way home or a dollar in your splurge-expense fund or you name it. Or reminding yourself that when you get home you can continue your job search and how nice that you’re able to get paid in the meantime, perhaps.

    1. Smithy*

      This is likely more an insight into my brain more so than a recommendation for everyone – but when I’m struggling with a really difficult situation like this where there are a number of external factors I can’t really control (i.e. how fast hiring processes work), I actually find a two tier reward system works best.

      Essentially coming up with one reward for doing everything I had hoped, and a second for not making it. Basically, having like a cheap wine, candy, take away option and then a more expensive one. If I do everything, yeah! I get the nice stuff! And if I don’t….it’s been a hard day, and this is a hard situation and you shouldn’t feel so bad. Ultimately, I know I need a bit of babying during those times. Too much tough love isn’t actually going to generate change, but there are still ways for me to incentivize the behavior I want.

      1. LC*

        Ooh I like this idea! My brain works in a similar manner, and I can definitely see this being helpful for me. Internal motivation is tough for me in any circumstance (thanks ADHD, that’s a fun one! /s) and too much tough love will just kind of shut me down. So having a reward just for trying (not as nice of a reward, but still something that I like) could give me enough of a boost that doesn’t feel all or nothing (because if I’m not sure I can do something, it becomes a million more times difficult to start/try, so I may as well just not even bother).

        1. Smithy*

          Obviously modify as appropriate and adequately motivating – but the idea being “You did it! Have a Godiva!” and then another “This situation sucks, tomorrow is a new day and you can make it better, here’s a Snickers.”

    2. TardyTardis*

      Also, save up a stash for the day when you literally cannot stay there any more. Remember, eating ramen is still better than committing mayhem (true, the whole three hots and a cot thing might start looking good, but please put down that axe). Terry Pratchett speaks of someone who carved his way out of accounting and into forensic history, but this generally works out better as a phrase than in reality.

  3. Smithy*

    As someone who has truly been there I have a few tips for both at work and at home that I found really helpful.

    At work – investing in low hanging high visibility “I’m Engaged!” fruit. Whatever the equivalent of sitting in the first row of class is at your job. While Alison’s suggestions are great, I’ve also found that things like dressing up, bringing “treats” into the office, or volunteering to be part of some kind of social committee I know is easy (i.e. picking up a cake for someone’s retirement but not being on the holiday planning committee). I was at a job I hated where my attitude got called out, more so than my work, while I was in the middle of a painfully long job hunt. These were all performative ways I could demonstrate a better attitude that bugged me the least.

    At home – based on your budget, how can you invest in making your job hunt as enjoyable as possible? If there are barriers, I highly recommend taking days off here and there to just use on sending out applications and recharging. Basically “job hunt days”. Similarly, if there are rewards or treats based for the job hunt. It can mean things like getting X item after finishing an interview or getting take away or a laundry service instead of cooking/doing laundry to free up time. A job hunt means you have less time to truly unwind, which you often need to do more when you’re at a job you hate. So making sure you find ways to still give yourself that time or reward yourself for forgoing that time I found to be critical.

    1. High Score!*

      Wow! I like your response better than Alison’s (sorry Allison). This would’ve really helped me a few years back.
      What I ended up doing was allocating myself a little “fun budget” and I would use it for small rewards for making it thru the day or week. Like art supplies, a dinner out or a new book or whatever. While I was depressed, it was the tiny treats that got me thru.

      1. T J Juckson*

        I have a “Job Misery Fund” where I allow myself to spend 10% of my take-home pay on something decadent without feeling guilty– very fancy bath stuff (generally, I’m very happy with the Target brand Epsom salts, but one of my recent purchases was a $60 set of Japanese salts and it was bliss). About 20 minutes ago I bought a jacket because, well, I’m at work and miserable. I keep track of this all in a spreadsheet, and I might only be hanging on because I want to buy some fabulous sunglasses.

        That said, while I feel somewhat checked out, I’ve created very detailed documentation and am actively participating in long-term planning, so I guess I’m managing this OK.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          My own Job Misery Fund allowed me to build quite a collection of lipstick and lip gloss, especially when Sephora or Ulta had a sale.

        2. Meep*

          God, during the pandemic (when it was the worst because my horrible boss was actively trying to isolate me – even from my own mother!), I invested in so many RPG Kickstarters, it wasn’t funny. It went down under a good boss and then he left too. :(

      2. Smithy*

        Tragically I had my own year of hating my job and a never ending job hunt that led to perfecting this model, so a lot of trial and error has gone into this. Genuinely the hardest part of all of it was this sense of being stuck in a depressing situation where the “fix” was to get a new job, and I could only influence that fix so much.

        While being amongst adults and discussing “star chart” type rewards can feel infantilizing – be they coffees, sodas, fun sized candy, soft serve, happy hour – it basically came to that for me. And as miserable as it was, I also know it was really important because about 2-3 months before I was offered the job I took – I was offered another job. While the CEO was offering me the job he said that he was concerned the job would be a bad fit and wanted me to go home and seriously consider it. That CEO was ultimately right and I turned it down, but it took a lot of self soothing to remind myself that as unhappy as I was, I wasn’t destitute and that taking “anything” had a huge risk of being in an equally miserable situation sooner rather than later.

        When we’re really unhappy months feels like an eternity, and investing in whatever it takes to reminds ourselves that it’s not is worth it.

        1. 2legit*

          Stickers actually really helped me when I started trying to lose weight… sounds kid like, but it is all about the reward system!!!

        2. Forensic13*

          In terms of “childishness” and awards—as someone who JUST got diagnosed with ADHD, this is something I had to let go of. My brain literally can’t function without fun stimulation on a semi-regular basis, so I leaned into little things like stickers or things that make clicking noises. Sure, maybe I shouldn’t “need” it; but it makes me happy and doesn’t hurt anyone, so who cares if it’s “childish?”

          I suspect feeling super stressed or frustrated all the time isn’t much different.

          1. voluptuousfire*

            I’m probably in the same ballpark (I suspect ADD but haven’t had any testing yet) and I bought myself coloring books from the dollar store and a huge box of colored pencils, really nice Crayola ones. I color a few times a week and stick them on the fridge. It keeps me going.

          2. LC*

            Welcome to club! One of the biggest (I think) things to learn when you’re diagnosed as an adult is to work with your brain rather than against it.

            Figuring out what works for you and leaning into it, rather than trying to make something else work because you “should” or because “that’s just how it’s done” or because “it works for them so it has to work for me” or whatever.

            It’s not “childish” and it’s not “cheating” to do what works for you, regardless of how it works for other people or how others see it. The fact that you’re already realizing this and you’re leaning into it is fantastic! This internet stranger is proud of you!

        3. In Support*

          This helped me as well, you’ve given such good advice! I did something similar when I was miserable and job hunting. I picked out something special I had really, really been wanting for a long time and told myself I would buy it as a reward when I finally got my new position. Now I have a small diamond solitaire pendant that I wear almost every day at my new job and it’s truly a reminder to myself about how resilient and scrappy I can be in some of the toughest times.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Smithy, I like your first comment a lot. I don’t want to sound like a ‘fake it till you feel it’ sort, but there’s something to be said for approaching some things with a deliberately positive, engaged approach. Your co-workers will appreciate it, TPTB will notice and feel like you’re with the program – whatever it is – and some of that positive attitude will actually help. I enjoy doing things for others, picking up a cake for someone could be the high point of my day if I’m in Job Search Hell. Maybe it’s surface-level PMA, but it’s still a good tactic to get through the static.

  4. Malika*

    Unless it’s completely impossible i would advise erring on the side of caution and keep this current job going until you have received a job offer and can plan your exit. Alison’s answer gives a great reasoning for that. The world is small and you will run into old colleagues again, even if only as a connection to your current ones. Gracefully exiting your last job with a no hard feelings it just didn’t work out vibe is far better than exiting in flames, when it comes to career reputation. Handing over your work with due notice and appropriate docs means you showed a certain loyalty to your soon to be former employer. We are tested when things aren’t going well, and giving it your best when you are ready is the ultimate test. Good references and a happy send off will be the prize for winning this one. It will also pay off when you look back on your final months. You will be proud you hung on in there and this will give you added confidence when tackling your new job!

  5. Becky S*

    The comment about who you may run into in the future is important! I changed fields and ran into people who also changed fields. I’ve interviewed people who worked for tiny companies that no one heard of, except in each case I knew someone who also worked for those companies. On a phone reference check I ended up talking to someone who had dated someone I had dated. (I didn’t tell her) It’s a small world, do good work, leave on good terms.

    1. ThisIsTheHill*

      Yep. I’ve been in the same enormous industry for ~10 years, with 2 large employers (FTE) & a few contract positions. Last contract, I worked with 2 people from one employer – who had trained me when I got my start, no less – in a remote position in WA, though all of us live in MI. I’m a month in to my new job & have already met with a woman I worked with at the other large employer – both of us remotely working for a company 150 miles away – & was recently asked, “Hey, do you know ?” by a consultant.

      The world is a lot smaller than we think.

  6. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    I am guessing from your post that you are new to the professional work force, maybe a recent grad, or entering a new field? Somethings you want to consider are:
    1. are the things that are bothering you only happening in this company or do you need to readjust your expectations to be more in line with the professional norm?
    2. If you are new and on a PIP that is not good news for you, it means you are already on your way out and not on your own terms. What about your job performance has led to this? You don’t want this to follow you to a new job because you then have developed a pattern which will make it harder to get other jobs.
    3. If you are fired due to poor job performance you may not be eligible for unemployment as they will likely challenge it.

    1. Wisteria*

      It doesn’t sound like LW is on a PIP–at least, they don’t say they are. They say their management expressed concern with several areas. PIPs are very formal and HR is typically involved. In a healthy workplace, PIPs come after concerns have been expressed and not acted upon.

      1. Daisy*

        I’m not sure in what practical sense a ‘high-level action plan’ to address concerns that they will review together is different? It sounds formal enough.

    2. Allison*

      I’m not sure that’s true about unemployment; usually it’s only if you commit a fireable offense along the lines of stealing

      1. Anonymously Yours*

        In at least some states, you must be unemployed through no fault of your own to be eligible, and fired for poor performance is considered your fault. Employers can and often do challenge unemployment on the basis of the person being fired for cause, even if that cause isn’t egregious. At best, UI payments could be delayed. The only automatic approvals in my state (at least as of a few years ago, things change all the time) are if the person reports they were laid off.

  7. Sami*

    This is a really valuable question and answer, although I could have guessed Alison’s answer.
    I suspect many people go through this and, inadvertently or not, torpedo their reputation.
    Good luck to the OP!

    1. Artemesia*

      yeah. It is worrisome that they are already on a PIP so quickly. I would be having a pep talk every morning like you would before a major speech. I would also be thinking of two things I could do each day to perform enthusiasm. Some have mentioned the bringing treats thing. But thing of ways to appear busy and engaged — if you have to treat yourself to do that, d it. Participate in every meeting in some positive way; if you have a suggestion that is appropriate offer it in the ‘I have found this works well for the TPS reports’ way. Or ask a question that shows you are trying to improve your work on something. You can also ask the boss for advice on some new thing ‘to get this right’. what they are looking for is enthusiasm and engagement — You really don’t want to be fired and performing a positive engaged demeanor may make you feel more positive and engaged. You aren’t talking about a really aversive work climate here and you say the job itself is ok. No one appears to be abusing you. It is just the usual enui of work. So commit to acting committed and engaged. when you produce your plan tell them you really want to succeed and improve your performance and welcome feedback — this is a classic ‘fake it tell you make it’ situation.

      1. Wisteria*

        Interesting that more than one person has equated “expressed concern in several areas” with “PIP.” They are not the same at all. In a healthy workplace, the PIP happens when the concerns are not addressed. I don’t think jumping to “LW is on a PIP” is helpful to the advice.

        1. Jack Straw*

          Agreeing to “work on a high-level action plan that we’ll review this week” definitely seems like it’s a PIP.

          1. Wisteria*

            No, that’s not a PIP. In general, a PIP is very formal. A meeting is held with HR present; the manager creates the action plan; the problems, goals, and timelines are documented on a form that probably says PIP on it, and that form is presented to the person during the initial meeting; and the consequences of not improving, ie, termination, are also documented on the form.

            What OP describes is what should happen before a PIP gets put into play. OP is probably nowhere near PIP stage.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It doesn’t always unfold like that at all. HR isn’t necessarily involved, the employee can be asked to draft a plan, not everywhere calls it a PIP, etc. I have no idea whether the OP is on or near a PIP, but I don’t want people to think what you wrote is always the case and potentially misunderstand the severity of their own situation in the future.

        2. Meep*

          At my company, a “PIP” isn’t so much of a plan but as a “we are going to document things we don’t like without telling you without trying to fix it.” The only indication they are upset with your performance is if they just sit there sulking at everything you say.

          I only know this because I was trying to get them to manage one guy who needed a firm hand and when I spoke about writing him up, the owner asked “can we just write him up without telling him?” and the VP sat there nodding like that was the solution. I am pretty sure at one point I was on a “PIP” a year ago because my manager at the time kept dumping her lack of focus onto me. I was getting my job done just fine. She just refused to let me speak to anyone (including my own mother!) because she was afraid it would come out how little she is doing. I am sure she has been on an unofficial PIP 2-3 times.

  8. Evonon*

    I feel the same way. I am working to get into grad school and while there were so may times I wanted to rage quit, I’m glad I didn’t since my boss is actually writing my reccomendation and knows the people who teach at the school I want to go to. When you have one foot out the door, it’s easy to disengage but it’s also the opportunity to leave a good impression. Make sure your processes are documented, track all projects that may not get completed before you go and stuff like that. It’s hard, it’s so hard! But you will never regret being graceful for weeks than be furious for a minute

  9. Stephanie*

    Just wanted to say, hang in there OP! I was also getting to a place where I did NOT care at all before I changed jobs but luckily was working from home and able to hide it. I think Alison makes a great point that doing well now is an investment in your future even though it feels hard now. I don’t know if this would be helpful for you but I definitely journaled and wrote fake emails about how little I cared before moving on to my next task. Best of luck in your job search!

    1. Cookies For Breakfast*

      “Fake emails about how little I care” made me laugh. Definitely needed that today.

      I usually play out the most ridiculous requests I get to my partner, with the creative “see if I care” answers I can’t give at work, and fake voices when I’m playing the person on the other side. I’m terrible at fake voices, so it all sounds like the same person I’m having a neverending argument with. It does help let off steam, though!

  10. Justin*

    I hate my job too. I just have given myself a lot of other projects in my down time to focus on and care about until I can finally leave next year.

    1. Justin*

      My point is, it helps me not be as mad at work because I know I have some other joy outside of it.

  11. TrashHeap*

    Interesting timing on this as my husband is going through this exact thing and we finally decided the situation was bad for his mental health and he has given his 2 week notice.

  12. Jello, friends*

    When I was in this position (hated my job and was actively job searching the entire time I worked there), I shifted my motivation onto making sure the job was 100% ready to for me to quit. Wrote documentation, tied up every loose end I could find, didn’t let projects languish. I didn’t worry about doing more than was expected or taking on more than was assigned to me, I just did exactly what was expected of me completely and well so that I wouldn’t have to offboard anything or scramble to finish anything when I left. All work became preparing to leave, and the idea that when I did land a job I could just mic-drop and ride out my two weeks notice without having to feel ANY guilt at all was incredibly satisfying.

    In some ways this was just a mental trick to get myself motivated to do literally anything, but then when I got offered another job on the first day of a week-long vacation, I could split my two weeks’ notice between PTO and training the temp they hired to fill in with NO stress and NO guilt–the transition documentation was literally ready to go.

    1. Jello, friends*

      It was also nice to hate that job, because I was free to take on the projects I actually wanted to, which resulted in me teaching myself SQL while working on a project with our Tech Director–learning SQL directly contributed to me landing my next job (and getting me into my current career), but had the added bonus of pissing off my horrible boss who hated the Tech Director but couldn’t complain because it was professional development and related enough to my actual job.

  13. Spreadsheet Enthusiast*

    I’ve hated my job for the past year to the point where I was experiencing stomach cramps and nausea from waking up until 5PM when I left the office. A few things help me feel better physically and kept me motivated in my role and attempts to leave.

    Find an assignment you actually want to work on – I got more involved with our workplace equity team which has been a good outlet for working on something I care about and a way for me to feel like I could possibly make a lasting difference.

    Find coworkers to commiserate with – I opened up socially and found that others were having the same issues as me. Talking helped to pass the time, but we were also able to support each other through the ridiculous asks sent our way.

    Find a skill you want to build for your next job – look at the jobs you’re fantasizing as an escape route and try to identify a qualification you want to work on. It’ll distract you from your current circumstances and get you out that much sooner.

    Find something fulfilling outside of work – start a hobby or make plans or do something that gives you more life in the work/life balance. At points during the pandemic work was nearly the only thing filling my time, so it occupied that much more space in my mind. Making a deliberate effort to do worthwhile things outside of work made it feel less oppressive.

    Hope some of this helps you like it helped me!

    1. Stephanie*

      I second the finding an assignment you actually want to work on – the last six months at my old job, I was on the DEI team and though we were just trying to launch and thus not as active as I wanted, having it there helped keep me engaged!

  14. Andy*

    1.) Journaling, really. Write down what you dislike, what you can cope with, vent.

    2.) I was thinking about the situation as kind of evil fantasy castle I am trapped in while I plann escape. The fantasy element helped to move emotions away from situation.

    3.) Read up a lot on similar situations and create little action plans for small annoyances. It helps to feel undercontrol and it helps to solve issue here and there.

    1. LC*

      Gamfication is a great idea! That’s what I wanted to suggest, but I’m terrible at coming up with ideas, so I’m glad you shared your evil castle escape.

      I also think that finding things that you can control is really helpful when dealing with things you can’t control. (I’m not entirely sure if this is what you meant by #3, but it’s what I thought of.)
      -I can’t control this coworker’s annoying tone of voice, but I can control what music I listen to when not in meetings.
      -I can’t control the fact that they keep changing their minds on this particular project, but I can control making sure everything I put out has perfect grammar, including Oxford commas (which has the added bonus of annoying Janet because she, obviously incorrectly, thinks that Oxford commas shouldn’t be used).
      -I can’t control the 8am meetings that I’m required to attend even though there’s no need, but I can control having my coffee with special creamer ready to sip during said meeting.
      -I can’t control how many times they’ll keep revising this, but I can control the sparkly pens I use to mark it up.

      Good luck, OP!

  15. DrSalty*

    I think focusing on why you are choosing to stay (until you find a new position) might be helpful here. You say you’re unable to leave, but the reality is you’re making an active choice to stay based on your assessment of the pros and cons. You can reframe your attitude towards work from “something dumb these dumb idiots are MAKING me do” to “yeah this is dumb, but I’m CHOOSING to do it because I need money/health insurance/whatever.” For me, this kind of thought exercise helps manage resentment and anger and results in me feeling happier and less stressed while I plow through dumb stuff I don’t care about. The other thing that really helps me is keeping a little phone journal where I can vent to myself for a minute and then move on. Good luck with your job search!!

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yup. Knowing my life depends on maintaining this job keeps me at least somewhat engaged. But also, I’m not going the extra mile and I’m not doing a lick more than I get paid to do.

  16. KatAlyst*

    I was there, I was SO.F’ING.THERE.
    And then we had a bit of a … pandemic… and “do just the minimum, just get out” plan got shifted to WFH for 51 weeks before my efforts & opportunities coalesced into a new position (which I love).
    But take this as a warning that it may NOT work out to just disengage, for whatever myriad/combination of reasons. At the worst I was treating work like a student trying not to fail instead of a worker trying to succeed, and it got worse… much worse… before it got better–and mostly through me turning that attitude 90 degrees. By the end I was doing “B+ effort to make sure job-search was on my A-game” which was also a MUCH better headspace to speak from in interviews than rut-stuck-me would have been.

    1. Laney Boggs*

      Oh…….. I like this. Not the OP but I might screenshot this.
      In 2020 i was going to start a job search…then the world screeched to a halt so it was 2021…and now I’m on month 8 of firing off 5-10 applications a week. It gets hard to stay positive.

  17. Nav*

    Am I reading this incorrectly or does OP’s employer seem dissatisfied with their performance already? Looks like there are two sides

    1. Andy*

      My reading is that emploer is unhappy about performance and OP is on sort of PIP plan.

      But also, OP is not blaming employer in this letter nor playing victim. OP is asking what to do when you are super unmotivated and unhappy.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I wouldn’t expect someone this checked out to be performing at their highest level

    3. Tinker*

      What OP has said is that their employer has expressed concerns with their performance, and also that there are obstacles to success in their current role. It’s possible that OP is misrepresenting these points or that this is a correlation rather than a cause, but it is also not vanishingly rare for a manager to set an employee up for failure and conclude that when they fail it’s solely because they’re intrinsically a bad employee. This can happen even in the presence of good intentions, for instance if the manager is at the “unconscious incompetence” stage with regard to skills like clearly communicating expectations or identifying and removing obstacles to working effectively.

      It’s possible to be bad at your job even if you are a manager. It’s also possible to be an experienced professional who is knowledgable about how the work world works and not be a manager.

      Also, from being in a position very similar to OP, it’s very frustrating to see how much some people are willing to stretch to find a corner of narratives like this to write in some fanfic about how probably what actually happened was something entirely different. For my own situation, I am happy to lay out areas in which I contributed to the problem that I found myself in, but also it is not reasonable to expect that only entirely faultless people can (to take an example from personal experience) reasonably suggest that their boss neglecting to tell them about an assignment might be related to why they didn’t do it.

  18. Aspiring Athlete*

    In a similar situation what helps me is to think of my current employer as a sponsor of my outside of work activities that I enjoy. For me it is endurance sports but it can work for anything. Like my day job is my team/sponsor paying for/subsidizing my race entry fees, fitness classes, therapy appointments, running shoes, bike maintenance, etc.

    The highlight of my day is the fitness activities before and after work and I just have to look got a new sponsor and make the most out of my days before then.

  19. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I was in this situation fairly recently (and left for a great job with a big raise! there’s hope OP!). I know just how hard it is and I’m so sorry you’re dealing with it.

    Alison’s advice about documenting is particularly good, because it really feels like a step towards leaving. It puts you in this mind frame of “some day, and some day soon, this will not be my problem.”

    Prioritize what tasks absolutely positively need to get done on a given day. That way if you can’t push yourself through the whole day, you’ll still have hit the must-dos and your boss will be less annoyed with you.

    If you have meetings or other interpersonal interactions, try to come alive for those. Even if it’s a little sarcastic in your brain, that’s fine, as long as it comes across as engaged. People remember that and good enthusiasm might get you a little breathing room with management.

    Find something physical to take out your frustration. A stress ball, and notebook where you draw unflattering photos of your boss, something you can do in short bursts to help get you through the day (make sure no one finds that notebook though).

    Coffee, so much coffee.

    In the end time will pass, and you will end up somewhere else. Focus on the end goal. And good luck!

  20. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    What has helped me is looking at the situation like school, as in, this is a class I am taking in what bad management looks like, in order to develop coping skills. Even if you find The Best Job Ever, you will still need those coping skills. It’s just one part of your career education.

    Best of luck as you persevere!

  21. Crazy Cat Lady*

    As long as you are working for them and receiving a pay check, they deserve for you to be engaged and not just doing the “bare minimum”. If you can’t do that, then you need to do the ethical thing and just go. But if you are financially unable to do that then do the other ethical thing and actually do your job for however long that turns out to be. Please do not be tempted to go out in a blaze of glory. That almost never works out the way you envision it and you will likely be the one who ends up getting burned.

  22. Forrest*

    I’ve been in this situation for most of the last two years, taken to extremes in the last six months (after I put a ton of work into a couple of internal promotions that I was staying for, and then didn’t get them.)

    What I found hardest was not full-time hating my job, but swinging between projects I did find interesting and was invested in, colleagues i loved and really enjoyed working with, being wildly frustrated with the management direction, and then getting super invested in other jobs as I wrote applications and prepared for interview. It absolutely did my head in: since there were no guarantees, I was writing project bids and getting excited in some meetings (whilst also being aware that if Project Get Another Job came off, I wouldn’t be there to see them to fruition); and then switching off completely and on LinkedIn searching for jobs in the background of other meetings because they were so demotivating. I don’t know whether hating my job full-time would have been better or not!

    I don’t know if this counts as advice, or just commiserations! The good news is that I start my new job on 20 Sept, and am right now just doing handover documents and hearing lovely colleagues tell me they’ll miss me. :D

  23. In Support*

    Hi OP, I can relate to this immensely. I was “stuck” in my old position for about 8 months until I was finally able to secure a new one and leave. It was so hard not to allow resentment of my workplace become obvious in my work demeanor. Alison gave some great advice. Most importantly, remember that staying strong and cordial now will allow you the maximum opportunities to leave as quickly as possible.

    As another commenter noted, it can be helpful to begin creating documentation of your workflow that you can provide when you finally get to announce your departure. On a particularly bad day, I cleaned out my desk and files so that I would be ready to fly out the door when the blessed day arrived!

    Take PTO if it’s available, especially sick days when you truly need a mental health break, since most employers don’t pay those out when you leave. Make a playlist of songs you’ll play yourself out to on the day you leave.

    Finally, here are some words from John O’Donohue, who always has words of comfort no matter what I’m struggling with:
    “May we have the courage to take the step
    Into the unknown that beckons us;
    Trust that a richer life awaits us there,
    That we will lose nothing
    But what has already died;
    Feel the deeper knowing in us sure
    Of all that is about to be born beyond
    The pale frames where we stayed confined,
    Not realizing how such vacant endurance
    Was bleaching our soul’s desire.” (“For the Time of Necessary Decision,” from his book To Bless the Space Between Us)

    1. In Support*

      Oh, and one more thing –
      There is nothing else more pleasurable than the self-righteous feeling of being able to leave knowing you did everything right. Your employer has already raised concerns about your performance- prove them wrong so that you can leave with your head held high. When I left, I told my boss that I was just leaving for more opportunities for growth – she and I both knew she had failed me as a manager and I was leaving for greener pastures, but it wouldn’t benefit anyone to say it out loud. After I put in my notice, a few colleagues stopped me to let me know what a loss it would be for my institution. I wouldn’t have gotten that satisfaction if I had allowed my resentment to give me a poor reputation at work. While I was working there, I never ran into my boss in public – but after resigning, I’ve seen her twice already! And each time, I can see some bitter regret on her face – and I just get to enjoy that pleasant feeling of moral righteousness. The best is yet to come, hang in there!

      1. In Support*

        So glad you found it useful! To Bless the Space Between Us is a beautiful little book – I gave it as a Christmas gift to many, many people in my life – so many great poems to help cope with everything 2020 brought.

    2. Neon Dreams*

      Holy crap, this poem is making me tear up! I’m trying to muster up that courage but am doubting myself.

      1. In Support*

        You can do it! Hopefully you found the full text of the poem (it’s out there on Google). “I’m losing nothing but what has already died” was a mantra that really helped bolster me through that tough time! The idea of finding an opportunity to grow into my full potential was also a goal I kept in mind when I needed motivation (as well as the idea of the sad alternative, being afraid and cheating myself out of the opportunity to reach my full potential).

  24. AndersonDarling*

    I was in the same spot and started to disengage, then my company had an overhaul and I wanted to stay. But I created a big ol mess for myself because I was half a$$ing my work expecting that I would leave it to my replacement to handle.
    So I’d recommend staying relatively engaged in the work because you never know what could happen. If the company was bought by a great employer, would you want to stay? If the director was replaced and a new line of management was established, would you stay? Maybe a transfer could suddenly materialize?

  25. HR Exec Popping In*

    OP, I am sorry you are feeling this way and I really hope you find a position that is a better match soon. I recommend you focus on why you need to keep this job. Be it the pay, the potential for future referral or even just integrity. That is why you need to show up and do your best every day.

    I also hope this is a cautionary tale for others. Don’t let yourself get to a point where you are so unhappy in a job. If you don’t like your job, your company, your boss and you feel like it is just getting worse it is likely time to move on. I’ve seen too many people stay too long, become bitter and that actually effecting their ability to interview well and get a new role.

  26. PrairieEffingDawn*

    Do you have any vacation time left? Maybe a week off while you’re in this last push of a job search will help keep you refreshed enough to come back and give it your all for another month or two.

  27. Nicotena*

    Suuuper practical question: do you have any leave you can use up? If you just need to not get fired for a few more weeks / a month or so, it might be time to cash in your vacation, especially if it’s not paid out anyway. Maybe you can frame it to your boss as needing a reset so you can come back stronger. Better than getting canned.

  28. silver linings*

    If you have decent benefits, now would be a good time to take full advantage of them. If you’re overdue for dental work, if you’ve been procrastinating on a check-up/physical, if there’s an EAP that would help you finally write a will, etc. go ahead and take care of all that.

    1) You’ll have legitimate reasons to be out of the office, which will give you a break from what you hate (and mean that you don’t leave PTO on the table when you resign).

    2) You’ll have something to appreciate about your current job, which might make you less resentful in the meantime.

    3) And you’ll be in better shape if you have a gap in coverage, in case benefits take a few months to kick in at a new position. Get that filling now so you don’t need a root canal while you’re uninsured, etc.

  29. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    So, I know you’re disenchanted with management, but is there any way you can focus on doing things well enough for either fellow employees or your imaginary replacement? I know when I was on receiving end of a colleague’s senioritis, it really put a bad taste in my mouth. Like, if I were one of her references, I’d say her work was good, but I’d also add in that she just completely stopped doing certain things for her last two or three weeks of work and didn’t even tell me that I’d need to play catch-up with her duties (we split these duties, they were time-sensitive, and I was always available to help, so even if she’d just said, “I’ve been slammed, can you help me do xyz?” without saying she was leaving, I’d have gladly helped, but I had to stumble upon this information after she left). Maybe all of your fellow employees are monsters who you have no interest in helping, but it might be helpful for you long-term to even just think, “The poor person who will take my place is going to have a hard enough time as is; I’ll try to finish strong so it’s not a complete nightmare for them.” This might at least help reframe so you’re able to stay in a passable mindset until you get a job offer, since it really is most likely in YOUR best interest long-term to finish strong

  30. Beth*

    Oh, ye gods, been there, done that. My most effective coping mechanism was to give full rein to evil-overlord level inner gloating.


    Some days, it was all I had to keep myself going. And it worked!

  31. Cute Li'l UFO*

    I stuck out a contract I absolutely hated in a workplace I hated (commute was 1.5 hrs each way…) working with someone who was consistently removing me from communication to… get me in trouble? My immediate department was supportive and flabbergasted. Apparently the place had a rep for high turnover, burning through contract workers, and so on.

    I used to treat myself to lunch once a week there. I worked in a fairly run down area with lots of open road so I would often cruise around and play music and think about how great it would be the day I found a new job. The treat was something to look forward to every week. I’d eat and watch the old Chuck Jones short “The Dot and the Line” and internalize the Line’s “I’m steady! Dependable! I know where I’m going! I’ve got dignity!”

    I wrote a private list of all the ways I could escape this workplace. I just wanted to think creatively again and came up with gems like “just leave” or “roll myself up in an area rug and have friends posing as pesky area rug removal specialists take me away.” Meteor crashes into the building when I’m out getting lunch, I stack all the chairs and desks together and escape out the roof (it was some kind of converted warehouse), pretty much anything that came to mind. I knew they would never happen but it was an exercise in absurdity.

    I also kept very good records of all the work I’d done. I have never worked with anyone so thoroughly dedicated to moving the goalposts anywhere, much less someone who would immediately (and I mean immediately) show up behind my chair to look at what I was doing after I’d send an email. It was such a ridiculous place to be and I was impressed with how I was able to compartmentalize. Lots of repeating “I am SO f’n DONE” to myself and “this is 100% temporary.”

  32. Lana Kane*

    John O’Donohue is wonderful and this poem is just what I need right now, as I contemplate a major job change (and the anxiety that comes with it!)

  33. atgo*

    Ooh been there. For me it was helpful to detach emotionally from the work and remind myself that it was a transactional relationship, where I did some things in exchange for other things.

    Also, if you are dealing with health issues as a result (including mental health), you may be eligible for FMLA leave with doctor support. I was able to get partially paid by disability when I was burned out, but it’ll depend on your circumstances.

  34. Neon Dreams*

    I appreciate the suggestions from others who have been in this situation on how to cope/reframe. I’ve been burnt out on mine for almost 2 years but I can’t afford to leave.

  35. Goldenrod*

    This is SUCH a good question! I’m in a similar situation myself, at the moment.

    What I’ve learned from my previous experiences (and current) is that what motivates me the most is thinking about this in a vindictive way….As in, I am really awesome, and I am going to SHOW everyone how awesome I am so that they will be really sad when I leave!

    You know? In other words, be awesome because that’s JUST WHO YOU ARE and enjoy the feeling that your employers are going to miss out on your high-level contributions when you are gone. And look forward to the day you can hand in your resignation letter!

  36. JR*

    Back in April, I was in a job that was only saved from being terrible by my grandboss. The guy who had been my boss for a couple years had gotten increasingly mean and dismissive to me, and no one was sure why. Grandboss and he “mutually agreed” that he shouldn’t manage anymore, and someone on my team was promoted to be kind of an interim manager, but original boss was still on the team and impossible to work with (for everyone, but especially for me). I was job searching this whole time, but nothing had quite been finalized.

    So I had to sit through like an hour and a half “learn to communicate” meeting with me, old boss, and new boss. We used a lot of “I feel” language but didn’t make much progress. It was fine (I’m good at such things) but also really frustrating.

    Later that day I finally got a job offer. I gave notice the next day, and the first thing new boss said was “Wow, I can’t believe you sat through all that yesterday knowing you were about to leave.” I said that I didn’t KNOW it for sure at the time, but yes it did feel kind of silly at the time given the likelihood that I wouldn’t be around much longer! But I did what I had to.

  37. Anon for this*

    If you don’t continue performing to your usual standards, you will seriously annoy your coworkers. We had someone leave and everyone in the department knew when they started job hunting because their work quality and output both fell off a cliff. And this secret rapidly became common knowledge after they left and their hidden bombs started detonating, because everything was logged in the ticketing system and people outside our team found the paper trail of mistakes. They’re going to have issues if they ever want to apply to work somewhere someone knows the story.

    On another note, if one more person caaaaasually brings me an issue that they know was caused by him because they looked the ticket up ahead of time, gives me puppydog eyes, and asks “why isn’t this working??????” in an effort to start Annoying Coworker gossip I am going to scream.

    1. allathian*

      Ouch, but you really explained perfectly why people who’re looking to leave their job shouldn’t just stop working or start going through the motions. I mean, I get it if they stop going above and beyond. Of course, there’s going to be a problem if your “usual standard” is actually above and beyond for almost everyone else in the organization. If that’s the case, then I support dropping your standard until it matches most other people’s.

  38. Mimi*

    Man, this is so relatable. I’m basically stuck in my job because of healthcare reasons (ironically the burnout from my job is exacerbating my chronic condition; fellow public library workers, you can understand), and getting through each day while applying for something that would be livable in a practical sense is…brutal, especially every time a rejection comes in.

    I’m basically handling it a similar way. Putting my head down, doing the bare minimum (which is hard for me tbh), and forcing my cat to snuggle me for like an hour when I get home from work.

  39. knitcrazybooknut*

    OP, can you take some time off and come back fresh? It might be the easiest way to take a break and get centered again.

  40. ZenApologized*

    If you don’t understand, or like, cricket, this really won’t translate…

    When I was in roughly the same place, I had a torn post-it on my monitor that simply said “dig in and get through to tea”

    Cricket divides the playing day into a number of sessions, and this was my reminder that I just have to take this one session at a time.

    1. allathian*

      Well, with test cricket a single game can last up to 5 days…

      I can’t claim to understand the rules of cricket in any detail, but I do know that the games are long compared to any other sport, except possibly extreme endurance events like 500 km runs.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Cricket is punctuated by well-catered meals. Rewards, if you will. It’s therefore my favourite of the sports my children play, and a useful analogy for ZenApologised to invoke.

  41. Chantel*

    I am looking to exit my toxic work environment, also, and something that keeps up my spirits is to remind myself “Hey, this is probably the last semester, or one of the last semesters, you’ll be doing ‘x’ here.” Because I do have allies, and enjoy what I do (just not where), I start feeling nostalgic, and then relaxed. Really gives me perspective and helps when I feel overwhelmed with the BS.

  42. AnonPi*

    I feel you, I’ve been searching for (too long) and am burned out too. The things I have been focusing on is targeting tasks I can take on that would be good to add to my resume for another job, and getting them to pay for training that will help me get another job. Otherwise I do the minimum requirements to keep the other stuff afloat.

  43. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I am in the same spot. I’m getting kittens, because if you have to feed the cats, you have to keep the job, and if you work from home, they provide fun and solace.

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