January 07, 2021
As we officially turn the calendars towards 2021, employees everywhere are returning to work. Many of those same employees return, begrudgingly. Surveys regularly find that anywhere between 20% and 40% of people hate their job and finding a new job ranks high up the list of common New Year’s resolutions.
I can sympathize. I’m a lifelong entrepreneur that dipped my toes into the labor market early in my career, realizing I couldn’t do it. When someone tells me they hate their job, my initial instinct is to tell them to quit, find their skillset as a business owner and escape the rat race like the rest of us ‘chosen ones.’ I say this very tongue-in-cheek. Becoming an entrepreneur is not only hard, but deciding to be one for the wrong reasons is a disaster. So, in reality, I ask about their ability to switch employers or change divisions as a means to reset and find a better fit. The one thing I never suggest they do, at least initially: Follow their passion.
Too many people believe if they simply work for a non-profit or they dedicate themselves to their art that they will suddenly find peace and tranquility in their day-to-day life. They might have a lot less hate for what they do. But they also don’t think about the journey to ensure such a commitment pays off will take on their finances. If you think you’re stressed now over the job you hate, there’s nothing more stressful than worrying about where your next housing payment will come from or how you can afford your next meal. How well can you focus on your passion when you’re worried about losing your home?
This sentiment, coming from me, can seem hypocritical. I spent years following my passion for hockey, playing professionally. It took extreme dedication to do so. I didn’t follow this passion without a plan, though. To make it work, I had to run an entire second career at the same time. I also had to bankroll a huge portion of my early efforts from personal savings. Instead of seeing my journey as something for others to replicate, I caution them about all the things I wish I knew.
That’s why when someone tells me they hate their job, I first advise them not to quit.
My first job out of university was working in advertising. It wasn’t a good fit, personality wise. They were nice people and the pay was decent, but my working style didn’t match the employer. As I outperformed, they kept asking me to slow down and do less. That mentality didn’t work for me. Instead, I quit to start a chronically underfunded clothing store. To help cover my personal costs at the beginning and later to help aggressively grow my inventory levels, I would work nights serving tables at restaurants in the area. Eventually, the clothing store would click, but I often wonder how much faster I would have reached the mark if I kept the much higher paying advertising job, slowed down as they asked, and used the time and funds to build the clothing store.
I should have stuck it out at that first job. Now, I structure a lot of my advice on jobs from this experience and similar experiences of others that work at jobs they dislike. Here’s why you should stick it out at the job, even as you begin to plan the exit as soon as possible.
I’m sure you have a very simple plan in your head: Quit, regroup, refresh then find a better job. In reality, when you quit a professional job, it can take you weeks to find an interview and then the hiring process could take additional weeks to months before a decision is made. If you have licenses or require a criminal background check, then tack on another month after they decide to hire you. Many companies work on a six-month hiring schedule for new recruits. Imagine quitting only to find out that you won’t even know about your next role for up to six months or more? How do you plan to finance that? Will struggling to pay your bills or watching your savings diminish be something you hate more than your work?
If you’re being harassed or fear for your safety, get an employment lawyer and get out. But if you’re just unfulfilled or bored of your tedious work, then it’s time to assess your needs and seek out a new job or path while you’re also getting paid. Grind it out until you find a new opportunity. You may also discover that after perusing your options, your current spot isn’t as bad as you thought.
Ask an accountant or lawyer what they thought of their first two years on the job. Their roles are repetitive and tedious on the best days. They’re learning as they go and putting in time on smaller tasks as their experience and knowledge grows. They’re also often just cleaning up the work that senior staff doesn’t want to do. That’s the job; it’s not glamorous or intellectually stimulating. For many of us, it sounds terrible. Yet, when these rookies become a little more seasoned and their workplace has demand for their talents, they move onto more interesting work. Many of them don’t ever get to this point because they quit before they can. The point? Just as you’re thinking of doing, many lawyers and accountants quit early in their careers because they hate the work. But as their experience progresses, they get to a point where they work on bigger businesses and more impactful law. Many, however, quit their dream jobs before they have paid their dues.
Often this same dynamic would play out on hockey teams I was a part of. Those players that wanted to become stars would show up and work hard only to play a few minutes during games. The veteran players and coaches controlled those decisions, and you may practice for a month without playing more than a few shifts in a game. The younger players would often disagree with these decisions and quit. They only hurt themselves by doing so because they never gave themselves the chance to become the veteran or the star. Often these players had skills similar or better than the veterans, but they didn’t wait or develop their abilities to earn more ice time.
You need to build to get to the role where the more exciting work happens. If you look at your boss or your boss’s boss, and think ‘I want to do that,’ then don’t quit. Give it time, because you’re building the resume and talent to eventually take on similar duties.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. You can have a boring and tedious job that you don’t feel at all enriched by. If you spend your nights and weekends living out your passions, then the job satisfaction becomes far less important. You see this all the time from people that have mastered this balance. They’re excellent husbands and fathers. Or they’re racecar drivers. Or they fish every weekend. Whatever they love to do, they use their job as a source of income that affords their other passions in life. Some of the happiest people I know get little fulfillment from their day jobs.
We’re taught to chase our dreams, follow our passions and tie our self worth to our jobs. But that’s garbage. I have friends that work six figure jobs that they don’t enjoy. They have large, loving families. Happy marriages. Cars, boats, and other toys that they enjoy on the weekends with friends. Their work goal? To bank as much time off as possible and increase their annual vacation allotment. If they never move up at work or thoroughly enjoy their day job, it doesn’t impact their happiness one bit.
That may or may not work for you. But if it does because you have a specific passion that you focus on in your down time, then who cares if you hate your job? Not me. I fully support this lifestyle. And if you do hate your job, make sure you’re not projecting your concerns for a lack of passion onto your position. It may actually mean you need to work on what you love to do in your spare time, as opposed to changing what you do for money.
Finally, if all these different ways to position your current role don’t work, figure out your exit. If you’re not happy, and it’s truly because of the job, it doesn’t make sense to stay that way. Instead work hard and continue to build a body of work you can hold your hat on at the job you hate. Then take that proof of your skills and move on. Take pride in your work and go into interviews with a strong understanding of your skills and confidence in your ability to execute.
A lot of the best advice when it comes to working a job you hate comes down to timing your exit correctly. Use the income, network and skills you have now to best prepare yourself for your next move. The worst thing in the world is to find yourself quitting a job you hate and forced to take a worse job at a lower pay just to get by. Exit on top and only onto something that’s truly better.
Whether it’s better because of higher income, a greater challenge or more personal fulfillment, that’s up to you. But at least you didn’t make the move out of desperation, which increases the chance for success in the next role.
By Timm McLean, MBA |
CEO at WLTH