When Minda Harts was 35 and working as a fund-raiser, she was feeling increasingly frustrated. Her manager viewed her as a “utility player” who could be “put anywhere” and still get the job done. She wanted to be a leader.
“For so long, I just always walked on eggshells and I never thought that I could use my voice in the same way some of my other colleagues did — because I didn’t want to come across as too aggressive or angry,” said Ms. Harts, who is now an author and a workplace consultant.
This year, a Pew Research Center study found that only about half of U.S. workers are extremely or very satisfied with their jobs. And a recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association reported that about one-in-five workers say they work in a toxic workplace.
Ms. Harts considered quitting, she said, but realized that wasn’t the optimal solution.
So she stayed and asked to take on bigger projects. She was eventually promoted to the role of senior consultant. Years later, when Ms. Harts finally did decide to leave, she used her new skills to start her own company.
If you’re dissatisfied with your job but aren’t in a position to leave, there may be ways to improve your situation. Here are some suggestions.
It is easy to fall into a cycle of negative thinking when you’re feeling stymied or unhappy at work. Instead, approach your problems with curiosity, experts said.
Ask yourself what’s inhibiting you at work, advised Amy C. Edmondson, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School. Then ask: “What can I do? What can I control?”
“Think how empowering that is,” Ms. Edmondson said. “Obviously, the largest thing you can do is exit. But there are smaller things.”
Meet with your manager to discuss your aspirations and then ask for concrete feedback, Ms. Edmondson suggested.
Other experts recommended turning to people outside your organization, like friends, family, career counselors or vocational psychologists, to get a different perspective.
“Just that as a first step can oftentimes lead to improvements,” said Dennis Stolle, the senior director of applied psychology at the American Psychological Association.
Recalibrate your expectations.
If you are feeling disappointed in your role, there may be a mismatch between your expectations and reality. What are you hoping to get out of work? Is that realistic? If not, would it be more feasible over a longer time frame or on a different team?
Try to be flexible, Ms. Edmondson said.
“We live in a volatile, uncertain world,” she said. “It’s OK to have a five-year plan, but recognize that it is a hypothesis, not a fact.”
And remember that working hard means constantly learning how to add value to the company, she added.
For many workers, however, the pandemic bred a rebellion against the work-first mind-set. Some employees embraced quiet quitting, or expending minimal effort to get the job done.
“Those kinds of behaviors can sometimes help people if they’re overworked and underappreciated,” said Mindy Shoss, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida and an expert in worker well-being. But, she said, quiet quitting isn’t going to move your career ahead in the long term.
While ambition is often considered an admirable trait, it can sometimes go awry.
“Ambition can become harmful when it overshadows all other desires or needs, like our need to take care of ourselves or our need for community,” Rainesford Stauffer, the author of “All the Gold Stars,” said in an email.
In her book, Ms. Stauffer described how her drive to always say yes and juggle numerous jobs worsened her health.
She eventually learned to broaden the scope of her ambitions to include focusing more on her community and personal interests.
Look to your co-workers.
If you’re feeling frustrated at work, the odds are that many of your co-workers are, too.
But if that’s the case, don’t just vent and gossip, Dr. Stolle said. Find honest and constructive ways of supporting one another, he added.
Ms. Harts said she found her community by participating in after-work activities with her co-workers, like volunteering and professional development workshops.
“I know the common misconception is that we have to go to happy hour to find our tribe, but there are other ways to find like-minded colleagues,” she said.
Ask for accommodations.
Sometimes it takes just a few small modifications to make work more enjoyable. Do you need better flexibility in your schedule, or to work from home more often? What about a transfer to a different department?
If you have a qualifying condition like major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, you have a legal right to a reasonable accommodation that will help you do your job.
But even if you don’t, it never hurts to ask, especially if you can make the argument that the accommodation you desire will enhance your job performance.
Finally, as difficult as it is, try to stay optimistic, Dr. Stolle said.
“I’m not talking about irrational optimism,” he added, “but that sense that this too shall pass.”
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