It’s about 3 p.m. on a Wednesday — prime time for work dissatisfaction and for a question that’s been asked by office denizens ever since offices were invented: “I hate my job right now. What should I do about it?” Harvard Business Review has you covered in a recent article that lays out some practical steps you can take to get through the day.
Not all of them are surprising — the article notes that it isn’t productive to dwell on your work-misery, for example. But there’s some good stuff here, and what’s telling about these suggestions is that they’re exactly the sorts of things you’re unlikely to do when you’re sitting unhappily at your desk. A brutal inertia sets in when you’re unhappy, in other words.
There are steps you can take to nudge yourself out of it, though:
Celebrate your accomplishments
Don’t just keep a daily “to-do” list. Start keeping a brief “did” list each day with all the things you accomplished. It might be as big as acing a presentation or landing a new contract, or as simple as responding to a dozen important emails or filing your expense reports. But crafting the list can give you a renewed appreciation for the things you’ve been able to achieve for the day, which often produces a little emotional boost. “If we start lamenting the things that aren’t working in our job, it puts us in a more negative place,” says [Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan]. Focusing on the positive can create a virtuous cycle. Reviewing your accomplishments can also help you identify what you’d like to be doing more of. “Then you can use it to build a bridge between what you have achieved and what you want to work on,” says Gulati.
Melissa Dahl called this one, by the way.
It’s also important not to feel too socially isolated:
Seek out passionate people
Our work relationships have a profound effect on how we perceive our jobs. And since passion can often be contagious, surrounding yourself with energetic people, whether at the office or in professional networking groups, can help revive a sagging interest in work. Attend professional networking events and mixers in order to meet peers. Meeting new people committed to their careers and explaining your own goals and passions to them can help renew your sense of mission and expose you to aspects of your job that you may not have previously appreciated. Or offer to mentor or teach new colleagues. “Our skills grow and deepen when we teach others,” says Spreitzer. And you don’t have to be a seasoned executive to be a strong mentor. Mentoring others can also offer new meaning to your everyday tasks, and “one of the things most associated with feeling energized at work is feeling like our work has meaning or purpose,” she says.
You can also figure out what you’re good at and reflect on it:
“There’s a real correlation between what you’re good at, what makes you happy, and what other people are asking you for,” says Gulati. If you aren’t feeling good about what you are contributing or are struggling to find aspects you like, have a look through your inbox to see what expertise, tasks, and input people are requesting from you. Assuming you enjoy that work, perhaps you can shift some of your responsibilities or attention to be more focused on doing that type of work.
It’s possible to overstate the importance of this sort of self-help advice too far, of course — some people really are stuck in untenable work situations, and some people are struggling with outside factors that make them prone to feeling miserable. But the key point here remains: Many people are dealing with work situations that are bad but not horrific, and if you are there’s probably something you can do to help mitigate your unhappiness, at least a little.