Unhappy at Work? Here’s Your Solution

People often underestimate the importance of being in a role that fulfils them. If you are unhappy at work and would like a change, here are your options:

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Feb 22, 2015

So you’re not happy. Your job sucks. Your creativity is stifled by the boss or colleague that feels threatened, or by all the unnecessary bureaucracy. You hate your boss. Your salary or your bonus is a joke. You dread Mondays and spend weekends feeling anxious about the weekdays ahead. You clock-watch and that clock looks like it has more than 60 seconds in each minute. You find yourself re-reading sentences and struggle to stay present. Something needs to change.

Well, the driver for that change has to be YOU!

One of the biggest lessons that my career coaching clients learn is that ultimately, everyone is at choice. Let’s take Matthew*, as an example.

Matthew is a successful Fund Manager who came to me after realising that things weren’t about to change unless he did something about it. Despite a very successful career in Financial Services, a beautiful family and a lovely home in a beautiful part of London, he was neither happy at work nor at home. His wife was complaining about his lack of work-life balance and despite all his hard work and the sacrifices he had made in pursuit of a key promotion at work, he had been passed over. His words packed with frustration and conviction were, “I really have had enough and something needs to change!”

During our coaching sessions, Matthew admitted he had been unhappy at work for the last five years. Somehow, he had convinced himself that the only way to fulfilment at work was via the corporate ladder he was climbing.

The missed promotion turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

As he grieved the lost opportunity, he realised that it was never going to give him what he wanted. His time in the City was up. At 43, he had proved himself (to himself) and was tired of trying too hard in an environment that was not aligned to his values. He just hadn’t taken the time to really explore how miserable his job was making him, and the frustration was now leaking into his relationships outside of work. This is a common dilemma.

People often underestimate the importance of being in a role that fulfils them.

Worse still, it is easy to settle into a reactive, ‘victim’ mode and to shut down those nagging thoughts that tell you that you are no longer in the right place. Perhaps it was never even right in the first place.

As someone who fought those (and countless other) thoughts before making the difficult, risky, courageous and liberating decision to leave my successful career in financial services to start my own business, I am very familiar with how intense these mental battles can be. I have also worked with countless others on finding ways to re-engage with their jobs in the City or to escape completely.

If this article teaches or reinforces nothing else, please take away the fact that you are at choice. It is your job to make sure that your work inspires and fulfils you. Think about your values – what is important to you, and find ways to get them aligned with your work.

If you are unhappy at work and would like a change, here are your options:

1. Change the situation

Speak up! Ask for what you need. Your dilemma might be keeping you up at night but I can assure you that your manager, your mentor or “those HR people” most probably have other things keeping them up at night. Do not wait for someone else to drive your career.

I recently challenged a client to tell her boss that after several years of doing the same thing, she needed more challenge and hated that she could ‘do her job in her sleep’. Soon after that meeting, she got offered a completely different role that really pushed her out of her comfort zone. Just ask. You have nothing to lose.

2. Adapt or shift perspective

Work on changing the impact a situation or person has on you and learn strategies to help you change perspective. Did you miss out on a promotion? Or a pay rise? Was your bonus disappointing? Rather than dwell too much on how you’ve been wronged, how about looking at the lessons learned and planning how to turn things around? Get some constructive feedback and find out what you need to do differently to help you get where you need to be. Our behavioural assessment tool is the best I have come across for helping you see how you perceive yourself versus how others perceive you. Where do you need to adapt? This option requires humility, courage, open mindedness and maturity.

3. Leave

If the two options above do not work for you and you know you’re in the wrong role, company, sector or even country, get yourself ready and find what works. I often find that people are held back by self-doubt or the lack of motivation to make a change. Ask for help. Use your network. Dust off that CV and get out there. I have supported redundancy and restructuring processes, and helped people who had this option forced on them. I am often astounded by how creative they can get when forced to come up with alternative paths. Perhaps you are sitting on a business idea that needs exploring. Don’t wait for someone to push you. Push yourself!

4. Put up with it

This is unfortunately a common one. What makes this an unfortunate option is that it is often accompanied by complaining, frustration and mood swings that come with a ‘victim mentality’. This can have an adverse impact on the wider system (relationship, team, organisation etc.). In our systemic team coaching sessions, we often see how disengaged and unhappy team members fuel toxic behaviours that can damage collaboration and we educate teams on how to collectively re-engage.

If you find yourself complaining about something, think about what you need and ask yourself, “What is the request behind my complaint?” Go back to Option One above.

As you explore these options, I will leave you with a popular Eckhart Tolle quote that summarises it all:

When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.

*name changed to protect confidentiality

Now, over to you…..

If you have taken charge and built a career that inspires you, what additional tips do you have for people who are unhappy in their jobs? On the other hand, if you would like to discuss specific challenges you have in your career or need some help with any of the four options, get in touch for an informal chat about how we can help you.

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Group Facilitation & Team Development, Obi James Consultancy Limited

As Founder of Obi James Consultancy Limited, I specialise in Group Facilitation & Leadership Team Development. I help leaders, teams and groups achieve better, sustainable results by transforming how they work together to ensure that they maximise their resources. I have over 10 years experience of successfully designing and delivering people, leadership and team development programmes to hundreds of business leaders and teams across large multinational organisations like Deloitte, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Northern Trust. My experiences taught me that when high-performing individuals come together, they often do not make high-performing teams. Competition, unhealthy conflict and lack of alignment get in the way of effective decision-making, productivity and client service. Since setting up my consultancy firm in 2010, I have further studied neuroleadership, deepening my understanding of the neuroscience of collaboration, decision making, and change management. I am a Certified Team Performance Coach and a Certified Organisational and Relationship Systems Coach through CRR Global. In 2015, I joined CRR Global's Faculty and now train leaders, HR professionals and coaches on systemic thinking and team dynamics, helping them to transform their organisational cultures. In addition to facilitating a number of team development journeys at any given time, I also work as a Quality Improvement Coach with the NHS where I am working with 5 primary care leaders and their teams by employing systematic, data-guided activities to help them create sustainable improvements in the performance of healthcare processes, whilst coping with the demands of the public and the government. My clients include various executives and teams within organisations such as the Mayor of London’s teams, Bloomberg, TSB, Barclays, Lloyds, Farfetch and Royal African Society. For more information, please visit http://www.obijames.com/


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Keith Clarke about 4 years ago

So, true! We can only ever change it for ourselves. Number 4 is a disaster as a choice (and yes, it is all choice). Choosing to be a victim is the biggest cause of workplace distress. I'm not saying there aren't genuine issues of bullying going on that can be outside someones sphere of control, but generally, the "I hate my job" crown are playing the victim with aplomb.

The biggest issue as I see it is people do not have an end game. They don't have something they are working towards. They don't have something that makes where they are at have a purpose. Yes, it's important to find a job aligned with values, but if you wake up one day and realise that the one you have isn't aligned, the first thing to do is figure out who you are, what your values are and what you want. Then you use where you are at as the starting point to start moving towards where you want to be.