Choices in an unhappy workplace

If you’re one of the 6 in 10 that are not engaged at work (it’s 9 in 10 in the UK!) then you have some choices.

  1. Put up with it

2. Change jobs

3. Become an ‘entrepreneur’

4. Run away and join the circus

5. Improve your day-to-day experience to create the space to make long-term change

‘Put up with it’ means accepting the status quo and just seeing your job as a way to pay for your lifestyle. For some, it also means finding meaning, purpose and satisfaction outside of work, through hobbies or family or community.

For others, it means enduring rather than thriving at work, having your soul slowly sucked away. People who give in like this stay 2.5 years longer in a job they hate than people who are engaged. So you don’t just accept your sentence, you extend it. But it IS a choice.

Changing jobs is basically the ‘get the hell out of there’ option. If it’s a toxic workplace then this may be necessary but, equally, you could be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. It’s not always easy to move, there are risks attached and it may not actually address the problem. What if it’s not the job but a deeper issue, a more profound dissatisfaction with your life?

An often heard narrative is that the best thing to do is to become an entrepreneur, then you have control over your life and destiny and you can achieve anything you want! This is very much from the positive bullshit school of Internet money-making schemes and self-helpery.

The reality is that a) it’s hard and b) it’s not for everyone. Many of us aren’t suited to ‘going it alone’. We do out best work IN organisations, working WITH others in a collaborative way. It’s not where our energy lies.

Running away to join the circus is time-honoured advice and very appealing when we are wading through our inbox on a Monday morning or sitting in an interminable meeting, so dull we have to keep stabbing our hand with a pencil to stay awake. To be fair, it’s not worse than some of the advice handed out by the ‘lifestyle gurus’, ‘millionaire success coaches’ and ‘business influencers’. It’s not any better though. Best save it for those daydreams …

However, there is another choice that carries less risk, has immediate impact and gives you the best chance of a successful transition.

Although your work is dull and uninspiring, it’s draining your will to live and it seems hopeless, there is one thing you can change – how you respond.

You have power and agency. You can decide to respond differently and be the person you want to be, not the one you’ve been forced to.

What’s more, you can start to do it today and start small. Start smiling at people, taking an interest in your coworkers, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, being considerate. If you change your behaviour, people will respond differently to you. That will start to change them too and send out ripples across the organisation.

It’s not dramatic but it’s do-able and it works.

It’s that or learning to juggle whilst riding a unicycle…

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