Covid has made my job a slog — when should I give up on it?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I am an administrator in a public service organization, and have held this job for just over four and a half years. Covid hit when I was just shy of three years in the role, so more than a third of my time here has now been during the pandemic.

As a result of Covid, many of the rewarding things that drew me to the position and the organization (well-attended public programs, high volume of positive interactions with customers and community partners) have all but disappeared, while many of the less enjoyable aspects of my role (conflict resolution, rule enforcement, supply chain and contract labor challenges) have increased substantially. My boss and many of my coworkers seem quite demoralized by the stresses of the past 20 months, and that is affecting me, too. It’s a challenge to stay positive and focus on developing programs and services that may end up having little impact — or even be canceled altogether — because of case incidence spikes or general disengagement in our service population. This was a job that I loved. Now it’s a slog.

There’s a lot of discussion in my field about when (or whether) things will start looking up. Will a decline in Covid cases make the general public more willing to get out and engage with each other in the ways they used to? Will the rewarding parts of the job come back, or is what we’ve been experiencing for the past year and a half the new normal? No one can tell at this point. We are stuck in limbo, making minimal plans for an uncertain future while awaiting signs from the universe. It feels stifling and boring.

How long should I wait for things to get better? For the first year of the pandemic, each change seemed temporary and that made it easier to be patient with the negative. But day by day, the ratio of time I’ve spent just tolerating this job to the time I’ve spent engaged and happy in it continues to increase. If I knew for sure that the enjoyable parts would come back in, say, a year, I would stick it out. I worked hard to get to this position and would hate to walk away unnecessarily. As long as we remain in this limbo, though, I’m not building new accomplishments or skills (some of my skills are even atrophying). I fear that staying too long could actually make me a worse prospective hire. When is it time to cut my losses and look for a new position that I can evaluate with Covid impact baked in?

Readers, what’s your advice?

Read an update to this letter

{ 174 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    I mean, you might as well put some feelers out. Maybe you’ll come across something more appealing, or learn, eh, this is stable.

    1. Rayray*

      I second this. Maybe you’ll find something you’ll like. Finding a new job can be a very lengthy process, and even if you get offers, you still have the right to not take them if you decide to stick it out at the is place. Just start casually browsing and definitely spruce up your resume. It’s easier to write about your job when you’re currently in it so I always think it’s a good idea to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

        1. SarcasticFundraiser*

          Start looking. It can’t hurt. A job search also takes a long time. Took me four months and I was actively looking.

          IMO, what life was like isn’t coming back any time soon.

          1. Justin*

            Nor should it (not talking about the disease, just our whole Way in general). So the question is what we want to be doing as we face an uncertain (possibly in good ways) future.

            And yes, it takes a very long time if you are trying to find something you really want.

          2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            This is interesting, because my thought was that in a year, things will be pretty close to back to normal, maybe with masking and vaccine requirements.

            1. Cyrus*

              Eh, hard to say. Depends on the job. There are many where things are already back to normal or close enough. (There are some where it never changed, but in general probably should have, but this is getting off-topic…)

              On the other hand, it seems like lots of office jobs are not going back to the office any time soon. My job is writing SOPs. I used to work from home one day a week or less, now I do it full-time. In-person meetings have become conference calls or Teams chat with screen sharing. Running down the hall with a quick question for a subject matter expert has become sending IMs. Most of those subject matter experts can do most of their work remotely too. They are probably only going into the office one or two days a week at most for sensitive stuff that can’t be done remotely. After almost two years like this, they’re probably don’t want to go back to regularly going to the office.

              With hundreds of people like me or my subject matter experts in my organization, probably tens of thousands of people like that in my metropolitan area, there’s going to be indirect effects. At some point our employers are going to want to stop paying for office space that’s not getting used nearly so much. “Fast-casual” cafes and food trucks that relied on office worker lunches, bars and restaurants that relied on after-work happy hours, are not doing well. My office’s sense of community has gone down, which is hard to measure and is a mixed blessing anyway, but it has definitely happened.

              It makes me sad when I think about it. Change is always hard but I liked the old system and I don’t see a path for the new system to get as good as it, at least for my personality/needs.

      1. GreenDoor*

        The best time to look for a new job is while you still have your current job. You can take your time and be choosy and you’re not making knee-jerk decisions out of desperation. That said, I have worked in the public sector for over 20 years. There is something to be said about riding it out. I’ve noticed that because so much trickles down from the elected officials in charge, a lot can change with every election – the work you do, the office climate, your resources as an employee, even the types of people who come in for service – just depending on what types of people are in office at the time.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Agreed. A little bit of research and whatnot would help now. If it is the public contact and events that the LW really likes, other places may be in the same boat. The entire field might be in a holding pattern if public attendance and engagement are part of what drives the industry, but maybe other positions might have duties that need to be covered that are less demoralizing for the LW.

      1. Justin*

        And there might be places that do virtual public contact (not just bc of covid but because of the nature of other jobs) and they might be able to find their way to those, etc.

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      This is my approach. I’ve never really had the opportunity to be picky in a job search, so I’m taking this situation as my chance. It takes a long time to find a new job if you’re only applying to a few choice positions a month (in my field, anyway) so this OP can sort of have it both ways – they’ll likely end up seeing how things shake out for the next six months to a year, and they can see what options are more appealing out there.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Right. I have a feeling everything is a slog right now, but it can’t hurt see what other options there are at least. The search itself might be enough of a distraction or feeling of “taking control” to change the OP’s mindset.

    5. New Mom*

      Is there a way you can take these components “well-attended public programs, high volume of positive interactions with customers and community partners” and see if you could be a SME consultant for organizations? You could take the parts of your job that you excelled at and enjoyed and see if it’s marketable and if people would hire you to support their organizations doing similar work?

    6. Public Sector Manager*

      I agree. It’s going to be some time before people are back to the way things were pre-pandemic, and some things might not ever come back. Even though our county’s mask mandate goes away next week, I still won’t attend the fund raiser for my son’s school in March where 300 parents are going to be packed into the school gym drinking, eating, and socializing. My wife and I have enjoyed not getting a cold or flu in 2 years. So I’m now less likely to go to larger gatherings during cold and flu season.

      The OP’s industry might not ever come back to the way it was. Definitely put out those feelers and see what else is out there. Just because it’s out there, the OP doesn’t need to take it.

  2. The New Normal*

    I think if you are questioning, you are nearing or at the point where you consider moving on. You’ve already recognized that some skills are atrophying, so it may be worthwhile to start looking now.

    1. L'étrangere*

      Not that there’s anywhere those atrophying skills could be exercised mind you, it’s not like there’s some secret organization in town that’s putting on fabulous events. But maybe the OP could expand her skills and improve her mood by putting on some fabulous virtual events at the current job?

      1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        This is a *really* good point. The things LW enjoys about their current job aren’t likely to be features of a new job either. “Well-attended public programs, high volume of positive interactions with customers and community partners” just aren’t really features of our world right now. It sucks, but it’s also true. If they want to just move on and do something *totally* different, that’s an option, but realistically they aren’t likely to find anything that doesn’t have a lot of the same issues they have in their current role.

        For what it’s worth, I can’t imagine this continuing another full year. We’ve already reached a point where a *lot* of industries are taking a stance of, “we check for masks and vaccinations, but we just can’t stay closed any longer” and a lot of people are accepting the risk of shows and restaurants and similar. Even if COVID doesn’t get better (and it once again seems to be getting better), we’re finding mode and more ways to work around it.

        1. PT*

          If you really really wanted this, you could move to Florida or another state with a plague demon for governor.

          Personally I wouldn’t but everyone is different.

          1. eisa*

            Internationally, OP would be spoiled for choice :

            “All Covid regulations, including the requirement to isolate after testing positive, are due to be abolished in England in two weeks, Boris Johnson has announced.”

            “Last week, Denmark became the first EU country to lift almost all coronavirus restrictions.
            It was quickly followed by Norway, where Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said society had to “live with” the virus.”

            “Republic of Ireland scraps almost all coronavirus restrictions”

            “Covid-19: Switzerland to end most restrictions, including vaccine passports, later this month”

            “In comments published earlier on Wednesday, Niedzielski said Poland may lift its COVID-19 restrictions in March if daily infection numbers kept falling at the current rate.
            “If the tempo at which infections are falling remains the same, there is a realistic prospect of lifting restrictions in March,” Niedzielski told the Fakt tabloid.
            He said wearing masks in closed spaces would become a recommendation rather than a requirement.”

            There’s a lot of those plague demons around, eh

            1. Loulou*

              Okay, but individual organizations’ policies still very considerably. My own organization has generally had policies that are stricter than those required by our city/state and I’m guessing that’s fairly common. So just living in a place where large events are permitted (for example) doesn’t mean that OP’s organization will actually be putting them on!

            2. Lynda*

              And the uptick in hospitalisations in Denmark has been quite startling.
              Just because a country is reopening, it doesn’t mean they are at a point in the pandemic that they should reopen – or that customers will return.

              1. allathian*

                Yes, indeed. Finland is also due to lift all restrictions on Monday. This doesn’t mean that I’m first in line for a Valentine’s Day dinner with my husband in an indoor restaurant…

            3. londonedit*

              I mean, as a general rule of thumb it’s best not to trust, do or listen to 99.9% of the things Boris Johnson says. Just because he’s bored with Covid and wants it all to go away doesn’t mean the rest of the country thinks the same (though a disturbing number of people seem to).

              1. MigraineMonth*

                Also, don’t follow his example and hold illegal parties during lockdown. It’s just not a good idea.

      2. NothingToSeeHere*

        OP is almost certainly in the same field as me, and I’m guessing they have already been putting on virtual events as much as possible for the past two years. If you like to work with people it’s just not the same. They won’t be finding anyplace having big events during covid but they might be able to find something where they’re not the mask police, for instance.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        Honestly about 90% of people I know in events are absolutely sick and tired of virtual events. Putting them on is just an entirely different ballgame and doesn’t scratch the same itch. I miss people! Real-life people!

        1. Anonymous4*

          I miss people. I miss going to visit friends. I miss going out to dinner. I miss going to museums and concerts. I don’t miss not being infected or taking the chance of contracting long COVID.

          I may be sick of COVID but it doesn’t have any opinions on anything. It just spreads when a vulnerability appears.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes. I run in-person meetings and just did one this morning. Only three people signed up, when we used to have to turn people away once we reached 15, but those three people were utterly delighted with the opportunity and I feel totally energised by it (despite being a total introvert).
          I’ve tried doing the same online and I get the full 15 people signing up, however I don’t get the same energy from it, I feel more drained than anything.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, I find once I’m demoralized and negative, even if in-person events did start trickling back up, I’d be hard-pressed to shift gears. Burnout is real. Also, I’d be concerned that if I was mainly hired for events that aren’t happening like they used to, my position will ultimately be less secure anyway.

  3. Chairman of the Bored*

    LW sounds miserable and it’s been years at this point, I’d start looking for a new job right now. At least in a casual part-time way, since there’s no immediate urgency.

    If they find something that sounds fun and exciting and a good match for their career – then take it.

    If not, then they’ll have established that their current position is the best extant option even with the negatives from Covid.

    In general I do not like the plan of “hang around and hope things will get better at some undefined date in the future” regardless of whether we’re talking about jobs, relationships, or any other aspect of life.

    1. my experience*

      Yes, came here to say this! Looking will let you know what other options exist, and will make this a more concrete choice.

    2. Loulou*

      I agree with your last sentence in general and think it’s great advice for life. But when it comes to pandemic-induced issues like what the LW describes, what else can we really do? Of course, we should try to improve what we can and find other areas of life or our jobs we can enjoy or whatever. But this really is a “wait and see” time for so many because the circumstances are so outside of our control. It’s not like OP is languishing at this job but could find some other role where they get to do all the things they want.

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        We’re about to hit 2 years of pandemic, at which point it will have been going on for about 2.5% of the average American life span. That’s a long time to be waiting.

        The eventual date where things go back to Before is still undetermined, especially when you account for the time it will take for people’s behavior to change even if the virus disappeared tomorrow.

        My honest advice for people trying to “wait and see” with this pandemic is:
        1) Figure out what you would do if you knew that this was going to last another 5 years
        2) Actually do that thing

        LW might not be able to find another job where they can get absolutely everything they want, but it doesn’t hurt to see if there’s something available that would be better than where they are now.

        1. Loulou*

          I hear you, but at the same time a year ago my job looked VERY different from how it does now (though now it’s still very different from what it was two years ago), and I expect a year from now it will also look different. It’s excruciating not knowing when things will change and how much, but I don’t necessarily expect that one year from now, let alone 5, all the problems OP is describing will be just as bad.

          I agree OP should definitely look around and see what other types of roles they might be satisfied in. No doubt I’m projecting my own situation onto theirs, but for me it would have been short-sighted to essentially give up on the decades more of work in my chosen field that I (hopefully) have ahead of me in exchange for a more satisfying day-to-day over the past two years. Everyone’s calculus will be different, but that’s where I’m coming from.

    3. Abby*

      I’ve found that taking small but consistent steps toward change can make the job you’re in more bearable.

  4. Lady Lynn Waterton of Bellashire*

    I wouldn’t rely on things getting better quickly. Even if COVID does die out (which…is that even something we can expect at this point?), I think people will be slow to return to big events, partially because of caution, but mostly because it’s not the lifestyle we are used to anymore. We have gotten used to much more solitary and distanced social lives.

    1. Esmeralda*

      I disagree with you on the events. Depending on where you live, big events are already back and people are attending them. Not just in red states either (if the OP is in the US).

      1. Just Somebody*

        I live in the Northeast and my state has had restrictions since last June. There’s a minor league hockey team in my area, and while attendance was an issue pre-pandemic, people are coming to games, buying season tickets and seem happy to be out again. Even my 90-year-old grandfather attends from time to time!

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          Agreed most towns in Massachusetts have mask mandates, but are otherwise pretty much fully open, and people are definitely attending events (in masks). I’d venture to say that every show, concert, or sporting event I’ve been to or viewed on TV has been sold out or close to it.

          1. Texas*

            Yeah the profit-making/ticketed events are mostly back in my area of MA but not things like community programming and events unfortunately.

      2. SomebodyElse*

        It’s interesting isn’t it. I think that there is still a fairly big divide between the ‘back to normal’ group and the ‘cautious, not quite there yet’ group. Nothing wrong with either group in my opinion, because I think everyone needs to decide their personal risk tolerance.

        The real question is, which side of the spectrum do the typical users of the OPs services land. The other question is what would be different with another job? Assuming the OP is in the museum or library realm (pure speculation on my part from the letter), is the OP looking to get fully out of those areas or hoping that another venue doesn’t have the same issues. Without having more information we can’t answer, but the OP should really evaluate what the likelihood of this would be.

        Practical advice for staying or for the interim if they decide to move on, would be to find a way to do some of the things that you do enjoy. Plan your programs with reckless abandon, just because they are shelved for awhile doesn’t mean it’s time wasted. Get creative with ways to still work with the public and take advantage of the more relaxed atmosphere, maybe you aren’t planning an event that brings in 1,000s but maybe you can do an event that is more intimate that wouldn’t work on a grand scale.

        Unfortunately the things you mentioned that you don’t like, are probably going to be at any new job just as they are in your current if you stay in the same sector, so I’m not sure you would be gaining much by going somewhere else.

      3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I both agree and disagree…events ARE back but there are enough changes to make them different than what they once were — a different feeling/culture to them that I think will stick around. I’m in LA and we’re about to host the Super Bowl, so to me there’s a big disconnect between the pandemic still raging on and the restrictions still in effect, and this giant event happening in the area. Since I don’t have a few thousand dollars to drop on SB tickets I can’t say HOW different this event will be from others, but the smaller surrounding events aren’t as spontaneous and open…everything needs to be planned out and subject to last minute cancellation so I can see where that alone will have a lot of people opting out of events.

        1. Justin*

          That’s the real difference (in states that aren’t anti-vaxx). There’s a lot more planning and scheduling etc. Which isn’t necessarily bad but the “let’s just see what happens” part of things is what has changed (obviously events are also smaller, but you get my point).

      4. Butterfly Counter*

        I think this is right. And also, depending on where the OP lives, weather might be warming up soon which might mean good things in terms of virus spread as well as people venturing out. But obviously OP is in the best place to know whether or not her job is planning these type of events for the near or even far future.

      5. Lunch Ghost*

        There was a question here a couple weeks ago about mask mandates at theaters (the highest-risk event type, I would think, given that it’s indoors and you typically have assigned seats and sit near the same people for an hour or more) and plenty of commenters said they’d be happy to go to a theater as long as it required masks.

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          Theaters in Boston and NYC are requiring masks and proof of vaccination. I’ve been to a couple of shows since things opened back up, I’ll admit.

        2. Aerin*

          Honestly I won’t go unless they require masks. I’m going to the symphony tonight, and when I first looked at tickets this particular show didn’t say it had mask/vax requirements. (I think they were hoping it wouldn’t be necessary.) Once they added those requirements, I bought the tickets.

        3. Hlao-roo*

          If anyone is curious, the letter is:
          “dealing with customers who are angry that we require masks and proof of vaccination” posted on August 26, 2021
          There was also an update:
          “update: dealing with customers who are angry that we require masks and proof of vaccination” posted on December 7, 2021

          The upshot is that after the theater announced a mask requirement there was a lot of outcry on social media but relatively few refund requests from ticket holders. The refund requests were far outweighed by the new ticket sales after the announcement.

      6. HoHumDrum*

        Yeah, this is so regional. A friend and I are similar levels of cautious, she lives in a place where most people are not vaxxed and refuse to wear masks. She really does not go anywhere and has felt her life has been on hold for two full years. I live in a place with vax mandates and mask requirements and in the past 6 months was able to get some semblance of my pre-pandemic life back. I’m willing to eat at a restaurant where everyone is vaccinated, or to see a play where people are vaxxed & masks. I would still be completely isolating if those mandates did not exist. When I talk to her I feel so angry on her behalf that she hasn’t gotten to enjoy public life at all for two years because the community she is in refuses to take precautions. Our experiences of the pandemic are so profoundly different at this point.

      7. J.E.*

        Yeah, Elton John recently played a sold out arena show in my city and the NBA team has been having well attended games in the same arena.

      8. Gumby*

        Yup, I attended the San Francisco Ballet last week. They checked vaccine cards at the door and we were required to wear N95 (or similar) masks, but it was honestly so so nice to have that tiny bit of normalcy back.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      Plus, I think organizations are going to be wary of investing a lot of time and resources into planning events in the longer-term. We usually plan our big conferences a year out; who is going to invest in that now? Everything could change by then. We plan shorter-term outdoor gatherings with *some* confidence because we can see the trends and have a sense of the likelihood we’ll end up having to cancel or go virtual. But those are the less interesting ones typically. Big events take time to plan.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Yeah, in libraries, summer is usually our blockbuster program period. We host craft days and game nights and hire magicians and puppet theaters and it’s usually an extravaganza. But when we started planning for the upcoming summer, we still don’t know what the public health conditions will be like when June rolls around. Do we sink money and time and energy into planning programs we might need to cancel later? Do we play it safe and plan as if covid numbers will still be high and avoid high traffic events?*

        It’s been really stressful and upsetting and there’s been more than one argument between staff about which path is the right one, and a lot of my colleagues are feeling the same way the OP describes. We love doing storytime. We love having the kids come to watch the Mad Scientist do experiments. We love having the library full of excited readers all summer. It sucks that for the last two years, we haven’t been able to engage in the best parts of our jobs. Online storytime is great as a stopgap, but it just does not feel like in person programming does and it’s a lot more draining. I know a lot of my colleagues just want things to be normal again so they can go back to the parts of the job we all like best, but it’s just not safe to do that yet and it’s upsetting.

        *Full Disclosure, I’m team play it safe. I don’t have answers for OP, but I do know they’re not alone in feeling this way.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah, I’m on team “only plan events that can be done flexibly” – so, moved out doors, moved online, or plan from the beginning to easily drop this part or that part if case numbers aren’t good. I’m going to feel this way for the next several years even in the best case scenario, because I got burned in the beginning having to cancel expensive and carefully planned events. Even if they literally announce tomorrow that there’s a 100% cure and nobody will ever get sick again, I’m going to feel that way for at least a year while I see if they’re right in each season, no new variants, etc., because we’ve been burned. For us that means abandoning the whole concept of one big indoor gathering, even if there’s a *chance* you might be able to pull it off. I could totally see how if OP is a conference planner and that’s their favorite part of the job, they’re not going to love this new role of creating modular events instead, and should look for something else.

      2. AVP*

        This is completely it – part of my job is planning stuff like this for both major and smaller organizations. Mostly in NYC but sometimes LA and other cities.

        We’re seeing *some* interest in live events and are including them in our planning, but they’re smaller because people don’t want to commit budget when they’re not sure if it will be cancelled. We have considerably smaller attendance at stuff in NYC, medium-to-moderately smaller attendance in other cities. But it’s just going to take awhile to get back to “normal” because the lead-time for planning bigger events is so long and the investment is so big. And in the best of times, clients don’t want to pay for stuff unless we know it will be well-attended, so there’s some chicken-and-egg problems here.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah it’s everything. I’m reluctant to RSVP to an event in the far future without knowing more about the situation. My org is reluctant to plan events when they don’t get big RSVPs. We’re all much more moment-to-moment than we were.

  5. CatCat*

    I would look now. You have nothing to lose by looking now and seeing if there is something more suitable available. It is, in my experience, INCREDIBLY draining when there is a mismatch in what you expect the job to be and what the job is. You don’t need to tough it out in hopes that things will look up at this particular job. Look now.

    1. Clisby*

      Yes, plus if OP keeps on waiting to job-search, she’s going to feel even more drained by the time she decides it’s necessary. Even if she decides, ultimately, to stay where she is for now, she’ll be better prepared if she wants to look for another position later.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Agreed. This could just be location/situational. Maybe OP’s place is reacting very conservatively compared to other places that are more proactive or just more open to broader options (or, let’s be honest, luckier in how they’ve been affected and have more options.)
      OP is reaching the point of bleakness, not just about the current place, but about options.
      OP, apply to other places with just the goal of changing your perspective.
      Maybe even learn something you can bring to your current place. Or realize you can’t and then you’ll be sure it’s time to leave.
      Good luck!

  6. PolarVortex*

    It doesn’t hurt to look. Looking is not leaving your job, it’s considering your options. It sounds like your job is leaving you burnt out, but you’re not yet ready to leave. That leaves you in a spot where you’re not going to take the first option offered to you but are well aware of what you want in your career. Take the time to review what’s out there, interview. Nothing says you have to take any job unless it’s the right fit for you.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, you don’t have to stick out something that makes you unhappy. Speaking as someone who got screwed over a bit by the pandemic too, you can find something that makes you much happier.

  7. Just another person*

    Start looking and evaluating those other jobs now. Looking does not commit you to leaving. You always have the choice to decide the grass is not greener on the other side and stay.

    1. Ann Onymous*

      I second this. It doesn’t hurt to see what else is out there. Also, job searching takes time. By the time you’d potentially have an offer in front of you, it’s possible you’ll have a better idea what the future holds at your current job.

  8. bee*

    I think a thing to think about is whether those positive things you value would be happening at another job — I’m not sure there’s really anywhere where public programs are flourishing, or the community is out and about and having positive interactions. And supply chain issues and demoralized coworkers will also exist at any new job! That feels kind of demoralizing, but I think it’s important to remember that if you do start looking, it’s easy to get caught up in the shiny new-ness, and not realize the problems are the same. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener, it’s just… more grass.

    1. Christmas Carol*

      This. COVID didn’t just affect you organization, it affected EVERY organization, public, private, non-profit, for profit, sales, service and manufacturing. It won’t hurt to look, but I’m afraid that the only solution is time.

    2. KHB*

      I said the same thing a few comments down. If there’s some specific way the current employer is being uniquely impacted by the pandemic (e.g., they’re being excessively cautious about holding in-person events), that’s one thing. But the pandemic is affecting everyone everywhere.

      1. Evonon*

        I agree with this as well. I’m leaving my admin job to go to grad school because I am working in person to book remote meetings which sucks as I’ve not met any of the organizations we’ve served in person which I used to love. I’d see if there is an opportunity for professional development at your current job or if they would pay for some advanced Exel/relevant technology courses so your skills are actively improving in the meantime. If you have a good relationship with your manager I would ask and see if there are ways to at least reduce the amount of time you have to spend on the parts of your job that suck and maybe focus on a new in org initiative instead so your energy isn’t being wasted.

        1. Weathering the weather*

          This is exactly what I’m doing at my current job – taking a graduate class and auditing another class that interests me. If I need more to keep me busy, there’s always Excel. I’m keeping an eye out for better jobs but haven’t seen anything yet.

    3. Manders*

      Yes, this is something I was wondering about. Maybe it would be a good idea to ask around if you have other friends in this field, or to try to find something like a subreddit or chat group for fellow professionals.

      If the LW loves putting on public programs, there just might not be a way to do that at any job right now. If there’s something about this specific job that’s forcing them to deal with disgruntled members of the public in a unique way, maybe there is some similar job out there that wouldn’t come with the same level of stress.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I think this is a good thing for the LW to think about if/when they begin their search. Public programs might not be possible in any new role, but they may be able to find a position with less conflict mediation and fewer supply chain headaches.

    4. JSPA*

      I’m seeing a lot of this. I’ve been trying to track down acknowledgement letters that fell between the cracks as one director or financial person or donor relations person has left or is leaving, and another is still settling in. But most are staying in town, and a lot of it seems to be more or less musical chairs / exchanging one well-grazed pasture for the one alongside.

      In some cases, perhaps their orgs are paying the new people more. That’s reason enough, if you’ve been underpaid. Others may intentionally have chosen someone with less experience to save money. That’s reason enough if it means you get to step up two levels, and take on new challenges, for a modest increase in salary (and you’re game for it).

      Regardless of the financials and job description, what each shift represents is also a chance to start over. And a chance to put some of the distress of the last two years in a box, seal it well, slap a label on it, and shove it to the back of one’s mental closet.

      At the same time, as you say: in each case, one person’s great new job has been another person’s slog. The only thing that makes it better is that you’re not yet sure of what their limits are, and they’re not yet sure about how they “ought” to limit you. But that’s a fairly small window of opportunity.

      So, what then? If you need a change as a way to mark a new era–that’s psychologically valid.

      If you have skills that would see you fulfilled in some other job, even if there’s none of the close-up interpersonal reaction you treasured, pre-covid–also valid.

      But you better be ready and eager to jump in with both feet–and at the same time, to be gentle with people who have not left (but might)–and be undaunted when the new place is still a job, and Covid is still with us, and life is still frankly pretty fraught.

      As a thought experiment, if you have some leeway in how to conceptualize the proposals…what if you focused on programs that would be worthy and worthwhile, whether they launch this year…or you take them off the shelf in two years, at the same org…or you use the same structure if you’re at some new org, in two years? In other words, can you shift the focus from “what we do, that’s deeply topical in this moment” to “what people always could use more of, in practically every moment”?

  9. Longtime lurker*

    Start looking for sure. I think there are some parallels between jobs and relationships and one is that you often don’t notice the exact moment that the balance tips from ‘mostly good’ to ‘mostly bad’, you notice later and it’s easy too stay too long for sentimental reasons or hoping you can change something that’s out of your control.
    I had a job I loved that became a nightmare due to Covid in slightly different ways. I left and began freelancing, and now have a new job – it wasn’t until I quit that I realised just how unhappy the old job was making me (admittedly the factors were different to what you described, including poor management unrelated to Covid).
    Also, with Covid in particular I think a lot of us are stuck on waiting for things to get back to how they were, instead of moving forward. You’ve recognised some skills are weakening, so why not start planning a new route for you? Good luck!

  10. gsa*

    “When is it time to cut my losses and look for a new position that I can evaluate with Covid impact baked in?”

    Now! Considering how long hiring takes, I see no reason not to start now.

    1. emmaX*

      Yup, the only thing you lose by looking is the time to look. Plus, of course, the inevitible rejections associated with a job search. But both of those are easier when you don’t actively hate your job.

      Right now you are comparing your current job (sucky) to your current job in future (unknown). If you have an offer then you can think about whether that job might even be better than future job.

      You are under no obligation to accept a job offer, but you won’t know what’s avaiable until you look

  11. Meghan*

    This is not my letter but I could have written it— I’m in the same shoes. Very interested to hear the advice.

    1. NeonFireworks*

      Me as well. I used to LOVE my job working in an actual office with actual humans, but doing it remotely has sucked a lot of the joy out of it and I find myself feeling bored and aimless.

  12. KHB*

    What kind of new position would you be looking for, and how much better, realistically, would it be than your current position? If the things you loved to do and the skills you loved to use involved in-person events and programs, wouldn’t those be disrupted everywhere, not just at your current employer?

    On the flip side, rather than staying in the “holding pattern” and waiting for the “old normal” to come back at your current job, are there ways to adapt and get back some of what you loved about your job in a COVID-safe environment? Without knowing exactly what you do, it’s hard to speculate what that might be, but it sounds like the population you serve still needs your service, even if it’s in a different way than before.

  13. Dorothy Zbornak*

    Solidarity. I am at the point of applying to other jobs (haven’t in 4 years) and it feels slightly more hopeful again. I also used to love my job, but the benefits got worse during COVID and I realized that I just really don’t like working for my company anymore, plus I’ll never get a raise. I think once you’ve made the decision to leave, things start feeling better and you’ll become confident it’s the right thing to do!

  14. bunniferous*

    I would look now. OP can afford to be somewhat picky right now, plus it is always a good idea to at least see what else is out there. I personally think that we will never go completely back to normal, to be honest, but if OP is willing to stick things out for a year, that is time that could be used for a thoughtful and appropriately picky job search.

  15. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Start looking, put some feelers out, see what else is out there.

    Because (despite what our PM says) this isn’t going to be resolved quickly. As to when? Even with a background in epidemiology I can’t say. When people stop dying in huge numbers?

  16. TradeMark*

    I am willing to bet that our letter writer works in a library. If not, then there are other careers out there feeling EXACTLY LIKE THIS and for that, I am sorry.

    Anyway, LW, know that I feel your pain. What I am doing right now is hanging on. But I’m taking the mental energy that I may have used on my job in the times before and doing some up-skilling. So, I enrolled in an online course to learn a little more about work in another career field. I’m trying to identify aspects of my job that I liked and miss and see where else they might be. And I’m also trying to incorporate what I learned about myself and my preferences throughout this pandemic and seeing if I can find ways to nurture what I like – either with my job, or not. And I’m casually applying to other jobs that look interesting and seeing what happens.

    Honestly, I may not change jobs. I’ve been here a long time and there are aspects of my job that would be hard to give up. I may decide to focus on my non-work life. But what helps me is a feeling of forward momentum. So, I’m just moving forward and trusting that I’ll figure it out!

    I would like to recommend a book I learned about here: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. I also like their Designing Your Worklife book and they have released a post-pandemic version that I haven’t read yet. I find their mindset and approach to be a good one for me because it gives you a framework for how to tackle things when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Good luck!

    1. Obsessive Planner*

      Thank you for this, and for the book recommendation. You’re so right about forward momentum! I’m up-skilling in a slightly different field and trying to start exercising again.

    2. Please Exit Through The Rear Door*

      Librarian here, just about to post the same thing (minus the excellent advice). My job right now basically feels like 20% librarian and 80% mask police, and I am so worn out.

    3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Yup. I’m looking at a serious change in career for a couple of years, until I can start looking at an unmasked member of the general public and stop feeling like they’re Nurgle cultists who want to kill me. I still believe in what libraries do, but I am having a really hard time still doing it, these days.

    4. Squeebird*

      Work in a library and I thought the same thing; this person could be me. The rug has been pulled out from under us so many times, and while our public has been okay(!), it’s my antivax, anti-mandate coworkers that have made me seriously think about moving on. I’ve lost so much respect for some of my colleagues over the past few years.

    5. Dragonfly7*

      More solidarity from Team Library. I started casually keeping an eye out for new positions even before COVID. If the position isn’t right for me, I bet I know someone who would like to apply.

  17. justpeachy86*

    I’d say, to look at things clearly, follow the trail of “what if things never go back to ‘normal’ “. Walk all the way through what that would mean for your job currently, your org, your satisfaction, your job prospects/industry as a whole. Are there pivots your job/org has held off on, hoping the world would be different, that you could lean into? That would allow you to build, create, enjoy again. Or it might lead you to look elsewhere.

    Hope is nice, that the world will be ‘normal’ again. But it isn’t a strategy for enjoying the life you have now. It’s worth it to do the thought exercise to see if this is something that you can enjoy again or if its time to move on.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I completely agree, because it’s pretty much what I just did. I was in a role that I enjoyed and saw myself growing in over time. When covid hit I just assumed I’d ride it out, but as time went on I saw that in my field the end was, at best, very far down the line. In the meantime the stress built and built and I realized it was insustainable. Late last year I transitioned to another role in my org that is less impacted. In my field the effects of the pandemic are inescapable, but in my new role it’s much less. I’m really glad, for my own well being, that I made the change.

    2. Ashley*

      I think this past summer kind of offered a glimpse of the ‘new normal’. Depending on the area it might happen again this summer where we get a glimmer of the future, but personally I am mentally preparing for another bad winter season next year. I am definitely on the cautious spectrum with this and live in an area where it is mixed to the point of sometimes making me more cautious since those around me aren’t always.
      So could you live with how your job looked over the summer when adults had vaccines and cases weren’t terrible?

    3. Dragonfly7*

      “Are there pivots your job/org has held off on, hoping the world would be different, that you could lean into? That would allow you to build, create, enjoy again.”
      Thank you for pointing this out. I hold multiple volunteer roles in a non-profit, and one of them is so frustrating it makes me want to walk away from the entire organization altogether. However, there is another that is dear to me, it is just entirely inactive this time of year. I am reaching out to my fellow volunteers in that area to see if there is something we could start planning.

  18. Jean*

    This is why I almost always advise people to always be at least passively looking. That way if you happen to come across an attractive opportunity, you can weight it against what you have going on.

    Also, OP, it’s a mistake to look at your situation as a binary either/or of “stay and do nothing” or “leave immediately.” There’s no reason not to start putting out feelers, checking boards, and asking around in your network about possible leads. Doing that doesn’t mean that you have to be in an “I’m leaving my job” mindset. And I’ve also discovered through experience that simply taking action, even if it’s just updating your resume and casually looking around, can have a huge uplifting effect on your mindset. If you’re feeling out of control, which it seems like you are, even a small gesture of taking control back can work wonders. Good luck out there.

    1. TradeMark*

      Yes! Exactly! It is not a binary go/not go. Just taking small steps can make you feel so much better.

  19. Quite anon*

    You sound like our compliance officer, so if you’re my workplace’s compliance officer, you should definitely get out because I’m one of the people making our compliance officer’s life not miserable and I’m frantically job hunting.

    It’s not going to get better.

  20. Juice*

    Wow I honestly could have written this myself. I was in the same position you are in, and will be moving into a new field and new job soon. I was so conflicted about my decision, but now that it’s made, it’s been such a huge relief. I hope you find your answer, but it sounds like you are ready for a change!

  21. Danny*

    I’d ask myself, if the restrictions lifted the day after I quit (it is likely they will lift soon) would I’d be kicking myself for leaving? In not, I’d be out. If so, hang in there!

  22. Gingerbread Gnome*

    No advice to give, but I sure have sympathy for OP.
    I volunteer with several community organizations in an area with a less than 50% vaccination rate and rabid anti-maskers. We have lost a huge portion of our customer base as many of our best supporters no longer feel comfortable going to public areas. I am just. so. tired. of being called a snowflake because I wear a mask. Noticeably, the name-callers don’t volunteer, they just want events on their terms. I am closely reaching the point of dropping out.

  23. Beth*

    Riffing here on justpeachy86’s excellent suggestion above:

    You could try a thought experiment. You already know two options — things go back more or less to how they were before; or things never go back to that at all. You know how you would feel about each.

    Add in a middle level, or even two. Things go back to a lesser degree; or to a greater degree that still isn’t quite what you want. How would you feel in each case? Would you look back at this moment in your life and think “Thank heavens I stayed” or “Thank heavens I left”? How much would it take for you to be glad you stayed — or glad you left?

    In addition: if you leave, and things eventually improve to the extent that you might want to be back in your current type of work — is a return going to be easy, hard, impossible? Is there a possible future course where you leave, do a different kind of work, and then eventually bring those other skills back to your current industry?

    1. Anon for This*

      Leaving, doing a different kind of work, then coming back might be the best course of action, even if positive chsnge is around the corner. At this point, even if the OP’s workplace begins moving to reverse its course, these things will take time to return to the way they were, if they ever go back to normal. If it’s already reached unbearable levels, waiting around seeing if things will indeed go back to what they were might not be tolerable for OP. Nothing is stopping them from doing what is best for their mental health now, and coming back later if circumstances allow.

  24. A Teacher*

    This could be me. I’ve got too many years in the pension system to walk away–at least it feels like it–but the field of education and the general public’s treatment of public school teachers across the nation is just bad. There’s already a huge teaching shortage and its gettting worse with more being dumped on each teacher. I am in solidarity with you OP

    1. just a random teacher*

      Yeah, I am also just about at my limit with teaching during covid over here. I just can’t take all the mid-school-year changes that mean I can never plan anything, and all of the demands from above to be limitlessly flexible with students, with no increase in resources to support that increased flexibility. Having a school board member say hateful and ignorant things about minority groups that I’m a part of during board meetings is also not helping my morale. (It wouldn’t help my morale if they were saying hateful and ignorant things about a group I’m not a part of either, but it’s certainly adding some extra anxiety sprinkles to the anger sundae.)

      But when I try to look for a different job, but stay in the state pension system at a broadly similar salary, it seems like every job wants specific previous experience and degrees that I don’t have, because my degree and experience is in teaching. I don’t want to go get a different masters degree, so it feels like there’s no way to move out of education but stay in the public sector. (I haven’t really tried looking in the private sector because of the pension issue. I may get desperate enough soon, though. We’ll see how the next couple of months go.)

  25. Sylvan*

    Stop waiting. Assume that things will continue exactly the way that they are now for the foreseeable future. Don’t sign up for another six months or another year of unhappiness when you don’t know when things will get better. Apply for new jobs.

      1. Aerin*

        Agreed. Too many of our systems have gone beyond the breaking point, and people try to bail out of the (limited, half-assed, barely enforced) restrictions the second things look like they might possibly get better, which keeps us from ever getting better. (I will never, ever stop resenting the fact that another 2-3 weeks of what passed for lockdown in the US back in spring 2020 could have saved us so much of this.)

        The cycle of “lull, new variant, surge” is going to continue until we can get enough of the world vaccinated to seriously limit those mutation and transmission vectors. And that’s presuming none of those new variants will be able to evade our current vaccines and treatments (not a safe bet). Our current situation has been extremely beneficial to the people at the top of the food chain and they are actively fighting to keep those advantages.

        I am hopeful that things will get somewhat better, but I don’t think we’re ever going back to the way things were. Presume that this is the new normal, and plan accordingly–either commit to making the role work for you now rather than treading water hoping for a miracle, or move on to something else.

        1. Lunch Ghost*

          Another 2-3 weeks where? This always confuses me because New York kept its major restrictions until June 2020 and mask mandate until… June ’21 I think?… and we still had a massive surge this winter. I guess we needed other places to keep more restrictions longer? (In that case, it goes to the thing I will never stop resenting which is that unlike group projects in school, you can’t do all the work to end a pandemic on your own. Or even with 75% of the population.)

      2. Sylvan*

        Yeah, I agree.

        Also, I left an old job that planned improvements for my last two years. Improvements were always “only a few months” away. Things got better two years after I left. So even if things might get better, it could take too long to make waiting worthwhile.

  26. RetailInducedTrauma*

    I had been working in the public sector in an Office Administrator type role for a few years when COVID hit. Like you a lot of my job became a slog. Drafting COVID policies, implementing COVID policies, enforcing COVID policies, dealing with fall-out from COVID policies, managing masks/hand sanitizer/Lysol, etc. This isn’t even factoring in helping my staff deal with the public through all this.

    I don’t have any good advice. I can only tell you I left that job to work at a higher level public sector agency. I now work as a consultant advising people who did jobs like I used to. I get to do all the higher level work I used to do like program implementation/design/QA and none of the stuff I hate

  27. irritable vowel*

    I think that, as an administrator, you are likely to encounter similar situations in lots of new roles you might take on elsewhere, anywhere where the main focus is on serving a population that used to be in-person – whether that’s a public library, a community development org, etc. What about pivoting to an adjacent field that doesn’t depend so much on direct, face-to-face connection with the people being served? I’m thinking something like grantwriting, consulting, communications, etc. Focusing on service without being directly impacted by the lack of opportunity for in-person interaction might be the fresh perspective it sounds like you need.

  28. Numb Little Bug*

    I recently made the jump into a new job for the same reason. I had spent more than a year feeling unhappy, and decided it was time to start looking for something else. I have zero regrets and am happier for it now, paid better and have better prospects for the future. I might therefore be a little biased in encouraging others to go for it too!

    I’m not saying it will work out this well for everyone, I appreciate I am lucky to have found myself in such a good position, but there is no harm in at least looking to see what is around, putting the feelers out and attending some interviews. Whatever you decide, good luck !

  29. Persin*

    I’m was in a similar boat, loving the interactions with the public at my job, and then having them disappear. But it improved a little. The numbers of people that come to us are not the same, I’m not sure If it will ever be like it was before. My therapist told me I could find things about the change that I liked, to help me lean into it. I’m okay where I am right now but perhaps not as fulfilled as I once was.

  30. Clorinda*

    Look now!
    This is a perfect time to job search with a justification of “these are my main skills but I haven’t had much opportunity to use them during covid.” Everyone knows exactly what happened to you. If you wait a couple of years while those skills continue to wither, you’ll be much worse off.

  31. PLJB*

    I agree with those above who have said that it doesn’t hurt to look. But at the same time, maybe it’s time to start thinking about whether you can inject some joy into the work you do. I’m definitely not saying that you should find the fun in constant conflict resolution, because… well, just no.

    I work in libraries, and the situation you describe is my exact story. At first we just worked to adjust and keep up with changes. Then we settled into doing what we had to do to make it work. Then we started working toward returning to services but dealt with an inordinate amount of conflict and policymaking etc. Now we’re just kind of… doing the things we can while we try to explain to people why we can’t do the rest. And it’s hard. But something that has helped me with my own job satisfaction is to find the new things we have had to institute and decide which ones I enjoy and want to find ways to expand or continue.

    It also helped me to just start wrapping my head around the fact that, at least here in my part of the US, the pandemic is still real. It’s probably going to be for a long time. And not everyone wants to admit that, but it doesn’t make it less real. So in some ways “going back to normal” isn’t a thing. Some things about your job will be forever altered and wishing it wasn’t doesn’t change that. Recognizing that reality helped me become more clear about what I wanted from my job and helped me decide whether I could find those things in my current position. I hope that thinking about that will help you too. And what I’d stress more than anything is that you can take your time making that decision, until you feel 100% comfortable with what you’ve concluded.

    1. Esmae*

      I’m also in libraries, and I’ve really just had to stop thinking about “going back to normal.” It’s not going to happen for us for a long time, maybe not ever. I’m having to do some serious thinking about what I need to get out of this job to be happy with it, and how I can get that in other ways.

  32. BoredinChicago*

    Did I write this? I feel the exact same way for similar reasons. I’ve started casually looking, with the intention of being very choosy. I don’t think I will find something like my pre-covid job, because that isn’t the world we live in anymore, but I do think I will find something that I enjoy more than the random things I’ve been given over the past two years that I don’t enjoy.

  33. animaniactoo*

    Pivot pivot pivot.

    One of the things that there has not been nearly enough conversation about throughout is how to *mitigate* what cannot be *replaced*. So if you cannot reliably plan for events that mean close contact, how can you plan for events that still put you in the same space but not right next to each other? Or plan events that don’t require people to actually be in the same place? Until we get to a point where that close contact face to face is possible again? Such that you are not holding on and waiting with baited breath and trying to plan events that may need to be canceled? Even if that means that the events you are planning may not need to be performed in that way by the time that they happen?

    Because you need to plan events – and it is very likely that the community that used to be so engaged likely needs some events too. To handle all the suck. As a distraction from all the suck.

    If that’s not enough for you, if you’ve been trying that and it’s not working… well… it’s at least time to start *checking out* the job market and other jobs and seeing what may be possible and appealing to you.

  34. A Simple Narwhal*

    Echoing what a lot of others have said – it can’t hurt to see what else is out there! Applying for other jobs doesn’t mean you’re instantly committing to leaving your job, you’re just looking! You might find that there’s something out there that could make you so much happier than you are now – you might also find everything is just as bad or worse, and you’re better off staying put. Even if it turns out to be the second, you’ll be making the active decision to stay, rather than feeling like you’re trapped or twiddling your thumbs, which I’m betting feels a lot better.

    Good luck!

  35. Ambee*

    You said that you would hate to give up prematurely given you’ve put so much time and work into this position. Those are called sunk costs, and they’re usually not a good way to evaluate what you should do. You can Google “sunk cost fallacy” if you’re interested in the concept. :)

    Put aside the time you’ve spent in this job and look forward to the next year. You can’t predict what will happen in the world, so what will make you happy now? I agree with the other great commenters who suggest looking to at least see what’s out there. If you love(d) your current job so much, and you were great at it, there’s a strong possibility you could always return if things do pick up. Even if you can’t, you may find another position that suits you more, both now and in the future. Best of luck!

    1. irritable vowel*

      Yes, exactly – we tend to think of situations like this in terms of “I’ve waited this long for the bus, but the longer I wait, the more likely it is to come along,” but most things in life don’t work like that because they aren’t as simple as a bus that runs on a schedule and is just delayed.

  36. The Happy Graduate*

    I second all the advice to move on, really stressing to just take your time and do your due diligence for a potential new role to actually be an improvement to your current job.

    However, I want to stress that you may feel some newfound spark if you look into new certifications/training that can see you developing new skills and work on the atrophying ones. Have you also discussed with your boss any potential opportunities for promotions or transfers that may give you a newfound zest for your job/organization? These are all doable avenues that can at least keep you going until you get a better sense for how long the draining aspects will remain.

  37. KB*

    I’m in a similar position (admin, feeling uninterested in work I used to enjoy) and have been applying for a few months now within my field. As I’ve been interviewing, I’ve realized that the more admin-heavy roles that, pre-COVID, I would have imagined as my future are now all similarly uninspiring prospects. Whereas I enjoyed working alongside program/strategy before to carry out the processes, I now feel several steps away from the work we’re doing, and I don’t want to just go through the motions: here or anywhere. It may be more difficult, but consider different sorts of roles than those that are strictly within your wheelhouse. If there’s a time to rebrand, the “Great Resignation” is it.

  38. Yet Another Office Manager*

    Because of COVID my organization actually got catapulted into something we’d been wanting to do for a long time – webinars and virtual professional development. This allows us to bring our mission and expertise way beyond our geographic area. If that’s an option for you, OP, I would definitely look into it. It sounds like your background would work well with it.

  39. I AM Sparkling }:(*

    It’s taken me far too long to realize that you can’t think about what ifs and maybes, you have to think about the now. There’s no way of knowing if your job will ever return to the way it was, no matter how much you want it to. I don’t think any of us expected the pandemic to drag on for as long as it has, and it’s not going away any time soon. A year from now, if you keep just slogging though it, you’ll be a year’s worth more miserable and kicking yourself and thinking “why didn’t I do something a year ago?”

    You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by looking for a new job now. Best of luck!

  40. RagingADHD*

    Here’s the thing: how much of your job’s changes are due to the organization or niche, and how much are due to restrictions, mandates, or policies that apply to your whole city or region?

    If you love a lot of public interaction and public programs, would you have to move to a different city/region to find it? Are you willing to do that?

    Or are you considering an entirely different line of work? It’s worth taking a look around to see what your options are, but you should also do some deep thought about what you’re actually looking for, and what tradeoffs you’re willing to make.

    For example – if you moved to a place where public events are in full swing, do they devote the same type of resources to the kind of programs you run? Does your job equivalent exist there?

    If you chose a different line of work that has more public interaction, does it offer the level of compensation you need? Does it fulfill your sense of mission & values?

    It will be easier to decide about remaining when you are clear on what your other options are.

  41. Amber Rose*

    I’m going through the same thing, and something I’ve realized is this: the job may go back to what it once was, or something approximating it, but I can’t. Too many negative associations, too much exhaustion. We’ve spiraled so far down that coming all the way up again just isn’t likely.

    I don’t know if that’s true for you too, but consider it. If the job were to snap back to pre-Covid tomorrow, could YOU snap back with it?

    If not… time to look outwards and onwards, I think.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This is something I’ve had to consider as well. Even when/if the world goes back to the way it was before, *I’m* not the way I was before. I’ve seen sides of human nature I can’t unsee, and I just don’t know if I’m a good fit for this work anymore.

    2. TradeMark*

      This is so true. Putting aside all the drama of public service in the past 2 years, I’m just not sure I could go back to the pace of things that I was used to before. The thought of doing so makes me very tired. There may not be any snapping back with it in me!

    3. Awesome Sauce*

      ‘The job may go back to what it once was, or something approximating it, but I can’t.’

      Wow. Thank you so much for saying that. This is something that I have been feeling for a while, but could not articulate. Even if (when) things go back to ‘normal,’ I have to admit that the pandemic has changed me, the way I see others around me, and the way I see and relate to my work.

  42. Pandemic Blues*

    My thinking is this: the world is forever changed.

    There are loud factions of people who insist this isn’t true and lots of people in power who want to enforce this message. We have governors and mayors in states that took COVID seriously coming right out and saying that they want people back in offices so that they can justify real estate being what it is and have money spent in business districts. We have neighbors who have been revealed not to care who lives or dies, so long as they can boss around a waiter and not have the discomfort of wearing a mask for 15 minutes in a shop. People’s wants and priorities have shifted.

    This all sounds very negative, but it doesn’t have to be. I spent a lot of the last 2 years feeling like I was in limbo because of certain benchmarks I have been waiting for, and I have now accepted those aren’t coming soon. My goal now is to figure out how to make life best serve me if it isn’t going back to the way it was. My state has recently joined the bye-bye masks brigade, and yet I’ve just bought a bunch of new masks because I’ve seen this film before (and I didn’t like the ending). I am re-prioritzing relationships and activities in my life to reflect my values. I am trying to find pleasure in smaller things that I overlooked when I was rushing around.

    I have been looking at my long-term career and realizing I was a) devoting too much time and energy to work and b) that I might end up leaving this field for something that gives me more of the working style I want. I’m trying to hold on a little longer for some personal benefits, but it might not be the rest of my working life the way I thought it would. If your work isn’t what you want it to be any longer, or it doesn’t work for you, I think there is no harm in seeing what is out there. We only get one life and we often wait for a signal or permission to feel like we can try to have our needs met, but that just isn’t out there. You need to do what is best for you in the current moment. It’s been a long wait and so much has shifted, I think it’s okay to try something new.

  43. LawBee*

    Looking isn’t a commitment. This is something I have had to learn myself, when my old job was slowly killing my soul. Looking is just – looking. Go ahead and start.

  44. Typing All The Time*

    I would start looking. People change, work environments change. You have to see what else is out there. You don’t have to stay in a place that makes you unhappy. It took me a long time to realize that.

  45. Jas*

    Good question. I’m a nurse in emergency and where I am it’s completely thankless. So many jobs turned into something unexpected during this pandemic. I hope you figure out something that works for you.

  46. Tabitha*

    Oh how I hear you, OP. I was laid off in late 2020 from a Construction Management role and haven’t returned to the industry since then. Almost everything I liked about the work is gone now, and supply chain issues are enhancing all the stressful parts of the job. I could get companies into a bidding war to bring me onboard but I have zero interest in spending fifty hours a week of my life being miserable. Should the industry figure out how to adapt to life post Covid, I could always go back……but I’m not counting on that happening. It’s a whole new world out there and I don’t see much of it going back to the old ways.

  47. New Mom*

    OP, I relate to your letter SOOOOO much. Especially the part where you talk about the enjoyable parts of your work are evaporating and the unenjoyable parts are becoming the majority of what you now do. Have you ever considered being a consultant for the parts of your job that you enjoy? This is something that I’ve very seriously considering at the moment because the slog does not have an end in sight at my job. I’ve getting my ducks in a row before I leave but you should see if you have skills that you could use to help organizations while focusing on the part of the work that you excel at and enjoy.

  48. Cookies For Breakfast*

    I just reached the other end of this particular tunnel, and it’s taken over a year to find a new job. In between: lots of worry that staying too long in a stagnant job made me a worse prospective hire; absolutely no energy to do any learning outside of work that would improve my options; lots of promises at my workplace that things would change, none of which they kept; even a couple offers I turned down. It was a slog, but nowhere near as much of a slog as my day job. On the worst days, the only motivation I had came from putting applications out there, because that was all I could keep doing to have a chance of not being stuck.

    So, yes, the readers suggesting to start looking now because getting out will take time are spot on. As are those who say you’ve already spent too long being miserable at this job. There’s definitely something better for you out there. Give yourself permission to go find it :)

    Sending virtual hugs, if you want them, and wishing you all the best!

  49. EmbarassedBee*

    You have my sympathies, LW, I was in a very similar situation, and ended up leaving my nonprofit job of 9 years in mid 2021. For me, it was not just that most of the enjoyable aspects of my job were gone, but that leadership was unable/unwilling to take decisions, make changes, or in any way support the fact that everything about our jobs changed overnight. There are many, many opportunities to serve communities right now, they just look different than before, and if the org is serious, they’ll find a way to continue to do meaningful work. Many have. A year in, I was still sitting on redundant zoom meetings 6 hours a day, and they were still unwilling to consider that things might not be “back” in “a few months”.

    While we don’t know what’s going to happen, what we do know is that there will be no magical moment when everything reverts to 2019. Any organization that is still holding its breath is not going to be able to deal with change, and change is happening. If you care about having a functional workplace and doing work that has impact, that’s not where you want to be. I agree with everyone else here that it’s a good idea to look.

  50. Lobsterman*

    We’re gonna have Covid and Covid surges for 2-4 more years. We might have an apocalyptic surge, or we might just get variant after variant with the Global South as a reservoir of new variants as long as current Covid intellectual property policy is continued.

    If Covid makes your job bad, your job is going to be bad for the next 2-4 years. I’d say look.

  51. Been there…done that*

    I feel like I wrote this letter. I have been in my role for 4 years. So I am coming up on having been in the job under Covid longer than when I did what I loved pre Covid. I am trying to give myself a timeline. But it’s hard because if I moved on and things changed and went back I would be so sad for having given up. I love my role in the old days but the things I loved aren’t happening anywhere. So finding a new role wouldn’t be doing what I love just a new role. My only advice is to find an amount of time you can live with to decide to move on and commit to sticking it out for that amount of time and then looking. And making that contract with yourself that if it gets better after you go you stayed as long as you could!

  52. Dax*

    No advice, but you’re not alone. I am struggling hard in this area. I’m a department manager in a manufacturing company, and while my fundamental job can still be performed, nothing is the same or normal. The things that motivate me, like employee development and continuous improvement projects, often take a backseat or get get canceled altogether due to staffing shortages, lack of funding, and other emergencies. Meetings are almost exclusively remote now, so there is very little opportunity for socializing and building camaraderie. I feel like I drive 45 minutes one way to a job where I sit in my office alone on Webex calls 75% of the day. When I’m not doing that, I’m jumping through hoops to figure out how to cover shifts due to multiple illnesses. My job is either super stressful crisis management or total boredom with very little in between. I am disengaged and unmotivated, and I don’t want to be! But it feels impossible to get excited about work right now.

  53. Jules the 3rd*

    Sorry to be pessimistic, but: the things you liked at this job are going to be rare until this covid thing is over. You can put out feelers, but in-person well-attended indoor public programs may never be a thing again.

    If the feelers don’t find something you want, you might look into how your role can transform to get you the positive reinforcement that helps so much with the slog bits. Can you develop virtual public programs, and outdoor ones? Can you find other avenues of positive interactions, partnering with new groups (especially ones who have access to outdoor venues…)?

    1. Loulou*

      It’s absolutely untrue that well-attended indoor public programs may never be a thing again. You personally may never attend them again, but there will certainly be someone whose job it is to plan them. The question is: how can OP deal with the situation at hand, where they don’t know when these events will come back and in what form?

  54. anonymous73*

    COVID is not going away. At some point it will become more of an endemic like the flu, but we will never be rid of it entirely, and I seriously doubt that things will ever return to what we used to deem as normal. I know I sound like a buzzkill, but I’m a realist, and having been through the last 2 years and seeing things change very minimally because of all the politics and attitudes towards vaccination, I have very little faith that things will turn positive and stay that way any time soon.

    That being said, if your job is dependent on things returning to what used to be normal, I would start looking into a new or related field. If you no longer enjoy what you do at work, it’s probably time to look into something that will once again bring you joy. Life is too short to spend a large majority of your life in a job that drains you and makes you unhappy.

  55. higheredrefugee*

    If the public events and interactions are what you enjoy, this might be a great time to consider work places that you may not have before. In my area, our library did more events virtually, though with lower attendance, and now that things are opening up again, the non-credit Continuing Ed classes at the community college are selling out. Our small liberal arts colleges and senior centers have also had more success with general outreach programs/events as things open up. Kne senior center in particular started a new grandparent program that has a youth waiting list they’ve never had before. Obviously, I have no idea what sector you’re in, but definitely think broadly about where else you might find similar efforts, though maybe with different kinds of events for different populations. Good luck!

  56. DrSalty*

    Just start looking casually now, you have nothing to lose. You might find a great opportunity you’re excited about, or you might decide to stick it out after seeing your other options. Either way it can’t hurt.

  57. Karia*

    Start looking. Despite the apparent hunger for candidates, this has been the longest job search of my entire life. Covid is making the recruitment process longer as well, I think.

  58. drivesmenuts*

    Oh man! I feel you! I just quit my job because I can’t handle the COVID changes to my company anymore. My work was isolating before the pandemic and now it is soul-crushingly isolating with the social distancing and lack of face-to-face interactions. I quit my very good job with no safety net because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I am burned out from my regular job duties and add pandemic fatigue on that, I finally couldn’t do it anymore. The only caution I have to give you is make sure you have health benefits lined up before you quit (if you are in the US and don’t have other sources of health insurance available). The options if you aren’t employed are dismal and super EXPENSIVE!

  59. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    Honestly, it feels like this is happening across the board. Everything sucks right now, the future is uncertain, and we don’t know (and can’t possibly predict) where we’ll be in a year, or 6 months, or a month. I think it’s totally normal to feel burnt out and depressed, and if looking at what else is out there will help you feel better about work, then go for it. I did change jobs about 4 months ago and in a lot of ways, it did help. But changing jobs may not be an instant cure – unless you drastically change fields or regions, you probably will experience the same adverse conditions (inability to plan in-person events, cranky and sometimes mean members of the public) because that shit is EVERYWHERE right now. The problem isn’t necessarily your job, it’s our entire social context.

  60. SC in NC*

    Admittedly, I did not read all of the previous comments in detail but it seems there was quite a lot of support for looking elsewhere. I’d like to offer a different perspective but in no way am I saying that exploring other options is bad advice or criticizing those who have suggested it.

    I’ve been with the same company for over 30 years and held a number of different roles from R&D Scientist to Executive Director of a large international team. About a year before Covid hit, I was asked to take a completely different role that included some new technical challenges as well as a high percentage of customer interaction. It was great! I traveled….met with large food retail customers…public speaking….external networking….while still getting to do some fun technical work. Lockdowns come and everything changes. At first it still worked but as time went on and retailers and food processors were just trying to stay alive, it turned into a slog (to proudly steal your description). The second half of last year was really challenging to say the least. I felt totally disengaged at times.

    But here’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Things are not back the way they used to be but when will they ever be? However, customers are back engaged, the technical work is at an all time high and my workload has exploded in a good way. Included in that is I was able to start working a hybrid work week and get some time in the office. It’s still probably only at 10-20% of the normal capacity but just being back in the office for part of the week and having some face to face interaction has made a big difference. So the moral of the story is that things can get better and I hope they do for you whether you decide to leave or stay in your current position.

  61. tired librarian*

    Is this about libaries? This has GOD to be about libraries. Or something similar. Anyways, I’m a department head in a library and I’m… currently learning coding to switch careers. If I’m going to show up to a job to collect a check, it might as well be a bigger check

  62. Bookworm*

    I was not quite in this position but could relate. COVID itself wasn’t what took away the positive aspects (a transition that was already happening was sped up by the events of the pandemic) but I chose to leave. I tried going to management because there were aspects that were becoming unsustainable: a lack of staff, a lack of direction, that more work seemed to be expected of us with fewer resources, etc. Going back to the pre-COVID days was out of the question (pandemic aside there were changes that were not reversible) but it was no longer worth it.

    It wasn’t going to get better–management was completely in denial that there was any problem. If anything, it was MY problem for not coping better. I left.

    A lot of people have been questioning a lot: jobs, personal lives, etc. Obviously your situation is your own but there’s a chance that it’s not necessarily only about the job. I hope this might have helped in some small, any way and I wish you the best, OP. I think the suggestions of putting out feelers and seeing what’s out there won’t hurt. Good luck!!!

  63. A vote for staying*

    I agree with the many commenters in that there’s never a harm in looking. But you sound like you liked your role before and are reluctant to give up, so I would also encourage you to consider staying. I work at a large public agency in a progressive city and one heavily-hit by COVID, and even we are starting to talk about the wind down of the emergency response and resumption of former priorities/activities. If we are ready to wind down those operations, I think a lot of other places will be doing the same. That said, whether the public demand for the types of activities you were previously organizing will bounce back is a question. But I’d imagine that’s the case for other similar employers, too.

    If you trust your boss, I think you should also discuss your feelings with them– of course with the upfront caveat that you understand this was a necessary shift in your duties in response to the pandemic. But it would be wise to flag that you would like to do more of the old duties whenever it’s possible to do so, so you don’t get pigeonholed into the duties you’ve taken on more of a share of recently. This is a risk especially if you are good at them and the boss doesn’t realize it’s not your preference. You can see if they have visibility on if/when you might expect to resume more of your pre-pandemic functions. They might also be able to help find a role for you that has less of the stuff that you don’t like doing (even if not all the pre-pandemic stuff you liked doing)

  64. Dee*

    Ugh that’s tough. You mentioned you’d be fine if this went on for 1 more year. I’d ask myself about years 2, 3 and 4. If I wanted to give this a shot, at what point would I regret having stuck it out? And if I left within the year – which I’d say is actually a quick transition – would I regret losing out if everything turns back to normal?

    I’d also spend a day listing everything I loved about my current role, to see if I could start finding those things elsewhere. (This isn’t about committing to a path, but exploring options.)

    I work in a sector I never intended to be in. (I assumed it wasn’t for me years ago.) But lucky for me, it incorporates a lot of the things I enjoy. I’m also working on personal projects now I hadn’t considered in the past, that fulfill me in other ways. Makes me wonder if there’s a similar possibility for your situation.

  65. Beth*

    Has your job had any return to…well, not normalcy, but more of the public-facing elements?

    I’m currently looking into a career change. I’d been considering it through the slog of 2020-2021, but had similar thoughts to you–this situation is temporary, the parts I used to love will eventually come back, it might feel like less of a slog then. The tipping point for me was that this fall, we did return to something much more closely resembling pre-pandemic work….and it still felt like a constant slog, with none of my old enjoyment and passion returning. Experiencing that is what pushed me into thinking about quitting. The same might be true for you; paying attention to how you feel as pre-pandemic tasks resume can bring a lot of clarity.

    I’m also seeing broader trends in the industry as a whole that suggest the parts I used to love about it are no longer priorities. Based on that, I have strong doubts that sticking around will lead to improvement, or even that switching jobs within the industry will really give me what I need. That’s the other element I’d consider–has the pandemic fundamentally changed something in your field? If you can’t see the things you used to love pre-pandemic coming back in the near future, that’s worth considering.

  66. Small town problems*

    I work at a small museum, now more on the admin side. I loved my job, but the constant open/close/open/close, trying to come up with virtual events, having rare in person events not well attended, nagging from the board, supply chain issues, etc etc is really making it miserable.

    Sometimes putting feelers out is enough to make you feel less miserable. But a new job might be good, because that way even if it is a slog, it’s a different slog, and you won’t be able to compare working there to “before”.

  67. RedinSC*

    I so feel you. These last 2 years have been really difficult.

    I also work at a social services organization. Here’s my take. We are at our new normal. I honestly do not feel that we will get back to Pre-COVID times in our actions, events and activities. If we do, it’s still years away. The need is great for social services, hiring is nearly impossible, turn over in staffing is difficult, so the efficiencies that we’ve created through this pandemic will continue. Zoom meetings and events, mail and email collateral rather than in person meetings, these things are not going to be coming back in any significant way for some time.

    So, like everyone else here, I think you should look. Think about the things that you loved doing and focus your search there. Maybe that means you have to switch up your profession a bit? But you can do that.

  68. FrizzleFrazzle*

    Solidarity, LW. I’m in teacher education, and not only am I trying to get out, but I am encouraging some of my students to not even enter. It’s clear in my area that the whole “parents choose the mode that works for them” is going to be permanent, so we teach some students in-person, some on Zoom, others asynchronous, and have to keep everyone from falling through the cracks. Meanwhile the joyful things about teaching like being with students, having school events, field trips, the relationships that are built in the environment are all gone. Add in this new trend of “divisive concepts” laws and it’s clear that this is the new normal.

    1. FrizzleFrazzle*

      That was the rant, now my advice: LW, I would start to look now and see what’s out there. It sounds like you are unhappy but still functional in your job. Only you know whether or how fast you could totally burn out if these working conditions continue. But I think it’s much better to keep a casual job search process going than to work in your job up until the point you realize you need out immediately to preserve your mental health and have to jump into something quickly.

  69. Burger Bob*

    You have my commiseration. I liked my job once upon a time and was proud to be in it. But it’s at the crossroads of retail and health care, and those are two industries that covid made really miserable. I am completely burned out and ready to be in a completely different field of work at the first opportunity (which, for financial reasons, will likely still be several more years). But, with covid-related things kind of sort of winding down, things are looking up just a tad. I’m hopeful that we’re past the worst times now and can get back to something resembling normal. But we’ll see.

  70. Rachael*

    I wonder how much this depends on the industry. I’m in academia and can imagine coding events as classes, client interactions as student or colleague meetings. Where I’m located the sector has shifted significantly. Its demoralising trying to teach hundreds of people online, support complex personal situations over email, deal with resource issues other industries seem to be managing better. There was very much a time and reason for safety measures of course, that’s not my point, but it is an open question of how much has the job fundamentally changed, and what will no longer be a feature going forward. Educators typically don’t go into education because they enjoy writing complicated emails.

  71. She of Many Hats*

    How passionate are you about your organization’s mission? How much do you enjoy the people you work with and serve? Are they enough to keep you going through this long stretch of change? Is there any way to switch some of your drudge work with someone else to get a fresh perspective and maybe get new skills or experience? For many, having colleagues you actually like or a mission you are passionate about can make undesirable work acceptable. But if you are dreading each day or there aren’t other factors that make the drudgery bearable, start looking for something that meets your needs better.

  72. Al Desko*

    I am the LW, and wrote this about 3 months ago. Recently, I did talk with my boss about possibly sharing some of the increased load of unpleasant operational tasks, which has come to far exceed the percentage in my job description. He was receptive, but it hasn’t been long enough to tell how that will really shake out in practice. I also decided to invest time in designing a training program to help address burnout and skill loss among our frontline staff, who are definitely feeling the strain of the past two years. I do feel strongly about our mission, but question our ability to fulfill it in an effective and satisfying way for a long time to come. I do really like my coworkers and the folks we serve, but they seem to be as exhausted as I am, so it’s hard to draw energy from those interactions like I used to. Part of my weariness comes from having to put on a brave face as manager: presenting a single plan to the staff/public after having to make ten potential plans first, and pretending like I feel confident that the future will be better. I have been casually looking, but so far not seeing a whole lot that is tempting within commuting distance. I’m willing to change industries and even move away from public-facing work, but I can’t physically move at this time. I hope that this training project – and possible lightening of my operational load – will help keep me more engaged and positive for another six months or so, by which point maybe the COVID situation will be slightly clearer? In the mean time I will be keeping my eye out for other opportunities. Thanks to everyone who commented for reassuring me that I am not alone in this.

  73. MCMonkeyBean*

    This is such a hard question, and something my husband has been dealing with as well.

    He has worked at a school near us since he was 15 years old! First just working in their summer camp program and then also during the school year in the extended care program and sometimes as a substitute teacher. For years it seemed he was being groomed to take over some of these programs and then he got passed over. The 2019-2020 school year, he was finally offered the full-time job running the after-school program and we were very excited. He did not even get to finish one year in the job before Covid hit.

    Overall we have been extremely fortunate during the pandemic, but it is a huge bummer that this job he spent almost 20 years working toward suddenly took a terrible turn. There have been several times he has wanted to quit, but I think he’s having trouble getting over the sunk cost and it’s so easy to think “it will get better soon.” But honestly, I don’t think it will. It might get better *eventually* but I think it is not going to be soon, and some things are likely changed forever.

    If you are unhappy with the changes in what you have to deal with most often at your job, I definitely think you should at least start searching casually and see what else might be out there of interest.

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