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Unhappy at Work? Here Are the Real Reasons Why

Job satisfaction comes down to how you approach it.

There’s a reason many people dread the “how’s work going question?” Let’s face it: If you hate your job, it’s hard to hide it. The sad truth is unhappiness at work is extremely common. And to make matters worse, research shows if you’re unhappy at work, you’re unhappy overall.

According to a recent survey, the way participants ranked their job satisfaction directly impacted their quality of life. In fact, 79% of people in good jobs reported a high quality of life compared to only one-third of people in bad jobs.

If you’re reading this and saying to yourself that you already know the reason you’re unhappy, guess again. In most cases, the source of your unhappiness goes deeper than “I hate my boss” and “I’m underpaid.” Here are the top four real reasons why you’re unhappy and what you can do about it.

The workplace culture doesn’t mesh with your personality.

If the culture isn’t a fit, chances are the people won’t be either. For instance, if you’re in a company that thrives on competition and you aren’t a competitive person, you will most likely feel stressed and you guessed it: unhappy. Even if it’s not personal, you’ll likely resent your coworkers who are always trying to one-up you. 

Unfortunately, a workplace culture issue is tough to fix. If you’re feeling uncomfortable most days, you may want to consider moving on. That being said, if leaving your job in the near future isn’t an option, try to find ways to make your surroundings less stressful. For example, it’s actually an opportunity to practice shifting your mindset.  If someone triggers you, ask yourself what exactly is it that annoys/angers/frustrates you? See if there’s a different way to look at the person that doesn’t push your buttons as much. Remember, what people say and do is about them – how you choose to react is about yourself. In the meantime, stay focused, do what needs to be done and set a timeline for yourself in terms of finding a new job. 

You feel underappreciated.

It’s human nature to want to be recognized for your efforts. So, it makes sense that when your boss doesn’t acknowledge your hard work, you will feel resentful. The reality is, your manager may even be trying to acknowledge you, but doing so in a way that doesn’t resonate with you.  Each employee is different and all too often managers use a “one-size-fits-all” approach, which can be even more frustrating than not receiving any at all!

A first step is to examine how you like to be acknowledged. For example:

  • Identify if you prefer individual or team accolades  
  • Determine if you prefer public or private recognition 
  • Know what types of work you like to be recognized for (e.g., solving a technical problem, coming up with a new idea, etc.)  
  • Clarify when you like to be recognized (e.g., mini “good jobs” along the way or at the end of a big project)  

Communication is key in any relationship.  Oftentimes, your boss may not be aware that their lack of acknowledgment or their recognition approach is causing issues. The best course of action is to approach him or her directly and inquire about your performance. This will lead to an open and candid discussion. 

If the problem persists, their leadership style may not be a match. We’re all motivated in different ways, and it’s important to be honest with yourself. 

You aren’t being challenged.

When you ask people why they’re unhappy at work, one of the most common responses is “I’m bored,” which actually translates to “I’m not being challenged.” You may love the company and the industry, but if you don’t feel like you’re learning and growing you won’t be fulfilled. 

If this sounds like you, the best move is to be straightforward and tell your boss you’re looking for more responsibilities. If you’re doing a great job and don’t speak up, they probably won’t realize you’re unstimulated. And this is a win-win situation – “please give me more work!” will be music to your boss’s ears.  

In the absence of new work coming your way, there are likely new skills that you can develop which you now have the luxury to explore. Research best practices in your industry.  In the end, if you approach your role through a lens of curiosity, there are typically lots of learning nooks-and-crannies to delve into!

You have too much on your plate and you’re afraid to say “no.”

We’ve all heard the moans and groans from our friends who say “my hours are crazy.” What they are really saying is they have too much work and either don’t know how to manage it or are afraid to confront their boss about it.

If you’re a people pleaser, you probably have a tough time saying “no” when your boss moves up a deadline or gives you more work. This isn’t to suggest adopting a poor work ethic, but rather being honest about what you can handle and what you can’t. 

Think about it this way: If you say yes to finishing a project by the end of the day, but realistically know you don’t have time, it will make you look worse when you don’t complete it. It’s better to be straightforward and tell your boss exactly what’s on your to-do list. This will hopefully make them more understanding. It will also make sure you’re both on the same page in terms of what takes priority, what can be finished later, and so on.

It’s Time to Take Charge of Your Career

Job satisfaction comes down to how you approach it. The key is to find meaning in your work, and a career that is meaningful to you.

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