How to Sit Tight at a Job You Don’t Like

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You’ve been at a job for some time and, for any number of reasons, it’s no longer working out. Quitting now will put you in a bind either professionally or financially, but coming to work every day is excruciating. What can you do to make your situation more tolerable until you’re able to move on?

Deadline Your Exit

Whether you decide to leave in six months or a year, start the grin-and-bear-it process by setting a deadline to leave. Amy Armstrong, LPC, a Westfield, New Jersey career coach, sees the deadline as a necessary part of planning your departure.

“If you know you’re on the way out, it can help to know when that’s going to be,” she said in an interview. “If things are really bad, it can save your sanity if you have a drop-dead date.”

Make Peace With the Boss

While many variables influence why a job isn’t working out, the problem often revolves around the individual in charge. Randi Bussin, founder of Aspire, a career coaching and personal branding company in Boston, noted that such difficulties are often “a communication problem,” which can be mitigated provided the supervisor is not a crazy person.

George Phirippidis, a senior consultant at KerrHill, a San Francisco business management, training, and development firm, agrees that communication with the boss is often the problem. “A lot of times it’s because these people have never actually talked to one another,” he said. “You should really try to open up a dialogue before you do anything else. If you’re all on the same page it will reduce the stress levels considerably, even if you still don’t like the job.”

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Bussin suggests making an effort to adapt to your employer’s temperament, because they’re not going to change. It may seem counterintuitive, but yielding in the short term will create some breathing room, as you won’t waste energy being exasperated. “Give the boss what they want,” she added. “And have confidence that this is part of your exit strategy.”

Stay the Course

Phirippidis acknowledges that some employers will never be satisfied. In that case, “sucking it up” may prove your best option. However, understand that a big part of anybody’s career involves making management look good; he advises prioritizing your basic work needs and then focusing your energy on doing the best job possible. Making yourself successful in the current position will help you progress toward that next step.

Your good will may also pay off: Phirippidis notes that recommendations from difficult employers could prove very useful in the long run.

Tweak Your Discontent

Beyond contending with the biggest drawbacks, even making small adjustments could have a positive impact on your mood. “What changes could you make?” Bussin asked. “How could you tweak it to make it palatable?” If moving your desk or location would make you feel better, do it. If a boisterous open office or loud colleague makes life difficult, wear earplugs. Spend a little time figuring out what it would take for you to exist more comfortably in the office.

Self-Care Is Critical

“I send people to yoga and get them out walking and I’ve connected clients to meditation practitioners,” Bussin said. “I’ll actually ping them a couple times a week to make sure they’re doing it. If you pay attention to taking care of yourself in a difficult situation, the negativity may shift and make it livable.”

Don’t skip lunch, counseled Armstrong, and take all your breaks; don’t volunteer for extra projects, check work email from home, answer your work phone off-hours, or work weekends.

Armstrong remains a fan of affirmations, even if you don’t believe in them. “I am particularly fond of ‘Well, I never did mind about the little things’ from Point of No Return,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it helps you snap out of dark places.”

Bussin had a somewhat radical suggestion: “Give yourself the flu.”

Taking a few sick days to get a break (and maybe work on your resume) is as much a survival strategy as making use of any vacation or personal time.

If your situation is making you emotionally or physically ill, don’t hang from the ledge by yourself. Seek help. Bussin has worked with many clients who’ve sought therapy, as well as some who’ve been medicated for anxiety and depression. Getting proper treatment can make a massive difference in the quality of your life, and empower you to contend with the tricky stuff and continue to move forward.

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12 Responses to “How to Sit Tight at a Job You Don’t Like”

  1. Doug Edmondson

    Anyone with the ambition and desire can leave a job behind. In today’s world there are more opportunities to make an income than ever before. You just need to be open to looking and not let your preconception cloud your vision. The MLM industry is booming and moving over $500 Billion in products & services per year. The company I’m with has grown, in 12 years, to $1 Billion per year and grew by 30% last year. With no employees, no inventory, little overhead, low startup, residual income and unlimited income potential, I sometimes question why everyone isn’t doing this. What other business can you start part-time and be making a few thousand per week after a couple of years?

    Stop belly aching about your job and do something about it.

      • Doug Edmondson

        So I guess you will be staying in your job. I was laid-off from my job 3 years ago and could not find another job. Luckily I didn’t listen to people like you and now no longer need a job. It does take effort and you need to be assiciated with a good company, but it’s a valid business model. Here’s a stat for you, 86% of women in the states with incomes over $100,000 per year do so with their MLM business.

  2. The part of the article that I would agree with most, and seems to hold true, is that most of the time, the desire to quit, to move on, and not stay at a particular place happens because of who is supervising you, and even, who is supervising them. If you have a toxic boss, and his/her boss is also toxic, the situation becomes thousand times worse. So, even if having an “open communication” is crucial, communication is two ways. If your supervisor is completely walled off to any communication, it doesn’t matter.

    But a lot of the article is emblematic of the problems in today’s workplace. “A large part of someone’s career is to make management look good”??? Really, if management is competent, their actions will stand on their own. It is not upto employees to make incompetent management “look good”, which more than often leads conflicting organizational goals, and eventual downward spiral of the organization, and thus creates the dissatisfaction of employees that this article talks about. I can attest to the that through my own, and my colleagues’ experiences. More often than not, making peace with your boss or “giving him what he wants”, just doesn’t work out, and exacerbates the toxicity level of the workplace.

    • Alex hit the nail on the head. The article is good, but the notion that an employee should focus on making management look good is ridiculous. People in management should not need propping up or smoke and mirrors to look good to the organization. The successful manager is the one who facilitates the growth of those working for him or her – possibly “building” future managers.

      • Hi Alex and Charles, Full-disclosure, yes, I am the Amy Armstrong who was quoted in the post. Objectively, I completely agree that as an employee it should not be your job to make your boss look good. If anything, the opposite should be true. In an idea situation, everyone is part of the team and just does their part and nobody needs to cover for someone else who is completely incompetent. When I was asked for input on this post, and I’m sure it’s true of the career coaches who were quoted in here along with me, we were told this post would be geared toward people who are waiting to get an offer for another job because they know they don’t like the current job. With salaries the way they are, sadly, some professionals don’t have the luxury of resigning from a job and taking six months to find a new one, and it’s important to be sensitive to that situation.

  3. Oh for crying out loud. If your job is really bad, do everything you can to get out of there ASAP. I’m tired of reading the usual nonsense about communicating better with the boss. How stupid do you think people are? If you can fix things by talking to the boss, then you do it.

    Maybe this article is being directed to kids right out of college who haven’t worked before? For the rest of us, it’s a waste of time.

  4. Yup I’m going to have to go on ahead and agree with By Me by saying that under most circumstances, the quit sign is flashing because the boss will not communicate, there is no accountability, there is far too much revisionist history, and there is kitten weak HR interaction from a department that has staked its claim as little more than a C-Suite rubber stamp and paperwork dispensary.

    I have to flat out call BS on the last paragraph, talking about running out and dropping thousands on some shrink so he can tell you how to spin things in your own head or dropping more thousands to drug yourself up and rely on genuine faux euphoria. That was a horribly irresponsible suggestion. I’ve gotten to that point – where I was still taking support calls with head hanging over the toilet, or raging inside and out alone or at loved ones and always two seconds away from tossing someone through a window. You get there? Walk. You earn just as much money at home unemployed as you do in jail, the mental hospital, or the morgue after you drop dead.

  5. Mike Marrs

    Crazy, where the hell did you work and what did you do? No one should be throwing up or yelling at their loved ones. But I got to that point once, where I put a fist thru a wall because of a a-hole boss. That’s when I realized I had to find another gig. Engineered my exit and 8 months later was out the door with a nice 6 month severance. Now I make 20k less but no stress.

  6. Hanson Morse

    This article is appropriate for all contract, temporary jobs with no future that are posted on this and hundreds of other websites. IT work today is temporary and project-based where some non-productive middle person wants to live off of you by taking the largest cut of the bill rate.

    They sit on their behinds and do nothing while you, the skilled, educated, and experienced professional, DO ALL OF THE WORK.

  7. Also, while I disagree with this as a long-term strategy, as someone who has been-there-done-that with a job until I found something better, it’s amazing how easy it is to smile and nod when you just don’t care. No agreeing to OT or special projects or extra work, and no arguing. Just tell the management that everything they’re suggesting is fabbity fab, and they’ll leave you alone. They’ll be the ones cleaning up the mess later; not you.